KRUSH EDITION: Iconic upset of No. 1 Indiana wasn’t the turning point we thought it was
February 23, 2016
Iconic moments have a funny way of seeming simultaneously recent and distant.
It’s been over three years since Illinois upset No. 1 Indiana, 74-72 in Champaign. It almost feels like just yesterday that I stormed the court as a freshman after Tyler Griffey’s layup went in at the buzzer, capping the Illini’s signature win in John Groce’s first season.
But on the Illini basketball timeline, that trademark upset might as well have happened a 1,000 years ago. Feb. 7, 2013, was the day No. 1 Indiana went down, and it was the last time Illinois was even close to the top of the college basketball universe.
It was a moment significant enough that a wide-angle photograph of Griffey’s layup and the ensuing chaos was made into a mural on the gym wall at the Illini practice facility. And while that night and that play will live on in highlight reels for the rest of every Illinois fan’s life, that moment hasn’t turned out to be as monumental as everyone thought three years ago.
That game was the crucial turning point in a season that was going off the rails. Groce got his 2012-13 team as high as No. 10 in the nation before sliding to a 2-7 start in Big Ten play heading into the Indiana matchup.
Knocking off the No. 1-ranked rival in such stunning and exposing fashion gave that season its second wind, as Brandon Paul and the gang would go on to beat a ranked Minnesota team on the road in their next game. They’d eventually land safely in the NCAA tournament with a No. 7 seed.
It was a special night and always will be for Illini fans. Campus partied over hoops like it was 2005. Kevin Durant gave Illinois basketball a shout-out on Twitter. It was the last time an Illini story commanded SportsCenter’s attention for something other than abuse allegations. Instead of signaling that Illinois basketball was officially back from the abyss, it turned out to be just a fleeting period when the program held its head above water before going back under.
And while that upset legitimately saved Illinois’ season, it wasn’t even that unusual in college basketball at the time. The Hoosiers were just the latest in a churning cycle of top-ranked victims, becoming the fifth straight No. 1 team to lose that season. The best Illinois sports moment in the last decade really wasn’t more than a blip on the national radar.
Indiana has seen considerably more success in the three years since, but you can bet most Hoosier fans still don’t believe Tom Crean has elevated their program to a consistently high enough level. Ranked No. 18 and atop the Big Ten standings, Indiana is having a very good year.
It visits an Illini team Thursday who is simply trying to salvage some respectability after the Hoosiers humiliated it a month ago. Unless it comes in the championship of the Big Ten tournament, no potential moment or upset this season could mean as much to Illinois basketball as beating No. 1 Indiana did in 2013.
And until it happens, Illini fans will wait for the next signature moment in program history, hoping it carries more lasting significance than the last one.
Alex is a senior in AHS