Illinois men’s gymnastics team falls to Oklahoma

By James Boyd

Tweet: @IlliniMGym competed well, but still fell to No. 1 Oklahoma on senior night

Four years, more than 1,400 days and almost 34,000 hours. Then it’s over.

Saturday was the final regular season competition before the Illinois men’s gymnastics team heads to the Big Ten Championships in Columbus, Ohio. But for the seniors on the team, it was the last time to sport orange and blue in front of a home crowd.

While the Illini won their meet last year, this time around, Illinois was not able to pick up the win against No. 1 Oklahoma. The Illini hung with the Sooners for the majority of the meet, but the reigning national champions pulled away by a final score of 444.750 to 433.050 – giving Oklahoma its third consecutive undefeated regular season.

“I don’t want to make excuses, but there were a couple errors we had from guys who weren’t in lineup that at the very last minute we had to throw in,” head coach Justin Spring said. “Bobby (Baker) hurt his finger in warmup. Chandler (Eggleston) didn’t compete at all.”

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Sophomore Baker was coming off a meet against Michigan in which he fell three times, in what was his worst competition of the season. Spring was confident that the all-arounder would bounce back this Saturday, but Baker’s injury allowed him to only compete in half of his usual six events.

Sidelined last year due to a torn patella tendon in his right knee, Eggleston has been dealing with a sprained ankle for several weeks now. 

Despite missing two of its top guys, Illinois still came out with a lot of energy, and even held a one-tenth lead after earning a 73.600 on floor exercise in the team’s first rotation. Oklahoma did not panic after Illinois’ hot start. They regrouped after the first rotation, took the lead in the second and never relinquished it.

“We gave them a good meet,” Spring said. “We had a good fight. We hung with Oklahoma for pretty much the first four events. The energy was there. It was really a fun and exciting meet.”

Freshman Alex Diab and sophomore Brandon Ngai were the only two Illini to earn event titles on Saturday. Diab took home two event crowns after scoring a 15.250 on floor exercise, and posting a career-high 15.600 on still rings. Ngai rebounded from his worst pommel horse performance of the season to earn his seventh career title in the event. The 17-year-old’s score of 15.600 on the apparatus tied his career-high.

“Those are out X-factor guys,” Spring said. “Every team has got them and it’s amazing to see our guys step up. What we can’t afford is for Brandon to go 15.600 on horse and Alex to go `15.600 on rings, but then have to count a 12.800 or 13.200. It essentially negates your average.”

Spring said that no matter the circumstances, and how ill-timed they may be, he still needs the role-players on the team to step up if their number is called.

In the locker room after the competition, Spring said that his team’s atmosphere was not one of sadness, but one of satisfaction. Fred Hartville, Max Mayr and team-captain Logan Bradley weren’t able to end their home careers with a victory, but Spring believes they were still happy knowing they went toe to toe with a NCAA powerhouse and held their own.

“We’re a still a top team in the country,” Spring said. “It’s not over (for the seniors). They have a lot of competition still … two days of Big Tens and two days of NCAAs.”

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