‘It’s what this thing is about’: Illinois men’s basketball celebrates hardware with fans on State Farm Center hardwood


Cameron Krasucki

Illini fans celebrate on the court after No. 20 Illinois beat No. 24 Iowa to earn a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. The championship is the program’s first since 2005.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Confetti. Court storm. Champions.

After having to wait 17 seasons, No. 20 Illinois secured its first Big Ten regular-season title since 2005 with a 74-72 win over No. 24 Iowa at State Farm Center on Sunday.

With three minutes left on the clock, fans began to leave their seats and headed for the stairs. If sports fans learned anything from Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals when the Miami Heat faithful started to leave with their team down late only to win in overtime, it’s that you should never leave your seats early.

But Illini fans were not heading for the exits. They were heading toward the court, which they planned to storm if their team could complete a 15-point comeback and ultimately hang on to a late second-half lead.

Fans waited in the aisles for what felt like hours, watching the Hawkeyes cut their deficit to a single point, fifth-year senior guard Da’Monte Williams convert one of two free throws to push the Illini lead back to two and Iowa sophomore forward Kris Murray barely miss a 3-pointer with three seconds left.

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With the pressure and anxiety building in Champaign, head coach Brad Underwood says he did not see the fans crowding around staircases in the background as the drama grew on the court.

“I did not notice,” Underwood said. “That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty cool.”

After Murray’s shot hit the front of the rim and then the backboard, the ball landed in fifth-year senior Trent Frazier’s hands. Players rushed the court, but they were not alone for long as the Illini faithful flooded onto the court as confetti rained down from above.

“That’s fun,” Underwood said. “A good court storm for a celebration, gosh darn, man. It’s what this thing is about. Our guys got to enjoy that with a lot of students and a lot of people, and to me, that’s fun.”

The celebrations would not have been possible without some help from last-place Nebraska earlier in the day. The Illini sat one game back from the Wisconsin Badgers, which had already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, and they needed a Cornhusker road win in Madison and a home win over the Hawkeyes to share that honor.

In what was a back-and-forth game that saw both teams lead by double digits at points in the game, Nebraska was able to hold off Wisconsin away from home.

After five years at the helm of the ship in Champaign, Underwood and the Illini now have achieved feats last accomplished by the likes of Deron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown in 2005.

That includes a Big Ten tournament win and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2021 and now a Big Ten regular-season trophy, something the Illini were able to clinch on their home court and celebrate with their fans on the hardwood.

“College athletics is the single greatest sport because it creates memories that last a lifetime, and everybody that was on that court tonight who was a student will remember that moment for the rest of their life,” Underwood said. “We all will, because we were participants, but they were there. They were a part of it, and to me that’s what this is all about.”



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