Oh, what a night: Juniors steal seniors’ spotlight

Illinois guard Dee Brown (11) shoots a free throw during the first half of the game against Purdue Thursday night at Assembly Hall. Illinois defeated Purdue 84-50. Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

Before the game, the No. 1 Illini honored their seniors.

After the game, they cut down the nets and celebrated back-to-back outright Big Ten Championships.

But during the game, it was juniors Dee Brown and Deron Williams who made the most of perhaps their “unofficial senior night,” as the Illini smoked Purdue 84-50 in the last home game of the season.

“It was just a great finish,” said head coach Bruce Weber. “You want to have great memories for the seniors.

“But the juniors stole the show, that’s the one thing.”

Brown, fresh off the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, left his teammates with their jaws on the floor as the junior guard finished with a game-high 27 points.

More impressive than his career-high scoring total was his accuracy from behind the arc, as he went 8-for-10, tying the school record for most three-pointers in a single game.

“I hit a couple open shots and then I just got hot,” Brown said. “The rim was just looking so big so I just tried to follow through and get the ball in.”

Brown banked seven of his eight threes in the first half as he went into halftime with 24 points. Teammate Williams was left saying “wow” when Brown hit a three at the buzzer to send the team into intermission up 50-26.

“That was crazy; he was hot,” Williams said.

Williams, unlike Brown, said the thought crossed his mind about stepping onto the Assembly Hall floor for the last time.

“I thought about it, but there is no way of telling until after the season,” Williams said. “I haven’t made a decision right now so there is no way of knowing that.”

Although it was the juniors that stole the show, the five seniors had their time in the limelight.

Luther Head led the senior scoring attack with 11, as all five combined for 21 points.

“It was a fun night, we did a lot of celebrating,” Head said. “I will remember it for as long as I live. It was great. How fans applauded for us and how they appreciate us as much as we appreciate them, I think that was the biggest thing.”

The only senior who didn’t score, Fred Nkemdi, who played six minutes, did put down a bucket, but it was called for traveling.

“(The crowd) really wanted Fred to score,” Weber said. “He had more shots blocked in three minutes than I have ever seen.”

Now the Illini are focused on one thing: finishing the regular season undefeated. The Illini travel to Ohio State on Sunday to face the Buckeyes at 11 a.m.

“We know they are going to be fired up; they definitely want to break our streak,” Williams said. “I’m sure it’s going to be a hostile environment. I know its already sold out.”