Illini fans cap ‘GameDay’ by storming court

A crowd of 4,143 showed up at the Assembly Hall for ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Saturday morning, while a sellout of 16,618 witnessed Illinois knock off No. 5 Michigan State at night.

After freshman D.J. Richardson knocked down a pair of free throws and junior Mike Davis broke away for a dunk to seal the 78-73 win, Illini fans rushed the court.

Demetri McCamey jumped onto the scorer’s table, while Richardson and Brandon Paul were lifted into the air by the Illini faithful at midcourt.

“This is my house. Let’s go. Let’s get wins,” McCamey told those sitting at the table.

Head coach Bruce Weber, who said his team played at a “magic level,” was all smiles when fans flooded the court.

“I don’t think we needed to do it, but I think just the whole day, the build-up from (Saturday morning) … they probably had so much energy that they didn’t know what they were doing,” Weber said, who sported his wear-it-once-a-season orange blazer for the game. “I don’t know if we needed to do it, but I think our (players) loved it, too. When we got in the locker room, half of them were still out there.”

Orange Krush president Matt Jones said the leaders of the student section are always supposed to tell everyone not to rush the court, but Saturday was “one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions.”

“I’ve been coming to the games since I’ve been a junior in high school,” Jones said. “I got to see some really good games, but this was the best game I’ve ever been to.

I’ve been telling everyone that when Mike Davis capped the game off with a dunk, it was only fitting. It was one of the greatest nights in Illini history … It was probably the most memorable day I’ll ever have being a part of this university.”

McCamey tried to rid himself of all of the background noise during the game until it was over, though.

“Most of the time, I don’t pay attention to the crowd,” McCamey said. “I’m trying to listen to Bruce as it is, screaming on the sidelines. So I try to tune the crowd out and just try to play my game and listen to Coach Weber at the same time.”

Meanwhile, Jones said he noticed stricter codes by the Assembly Hall security once the game began.

“At the beginning of the game they were making us all sit down on the sidelines,” Jones said. “But in the second half they were a lot more lax, and they didn’t even stop us when we rushed the floor.”

Jones said the Orange Krush members received a lot of outside donations to ensure they were amped up for the game. Red Bull donated nearly 600 energy drinks, they received more than enough pizzas for the entire Krush and County Market donated breakfast prior to “GameDay.”

“It went as good as we could have ever hoped for,” Jones said of the day as a whole. “Everything sort of fell in place as far as organization went.”

The day began as early as 6 a.m. for some Illini fans, when they lined up for the live taping of GameDay.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” freshman Orange Krush member Thomas Bruch said. “We’re really excited for the season, and we still think we can make the NCAA Tournament. It’s just fun being out here.”

The crowd didn’t come close to resembling the 8,149 fans who showed up for the taping at Kansas State last weekend, but Illini nation didn’t seem to mind.

The “GameDay” crew of Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps made themselves at home at the Assembly Hall. Hubert and Bilas originally picked the Spartans to win Saturday’s contest, while Phelps quickly became the fan favorite after he voted for the Illini.

“The energy they had this morning, it was pretty special,” Weber said of the Orange Krush. “I let the players be involved. You always kind of worry about that, but I thought, ‘Man, we never may have this opportunity again. Let them enjoy it and feel the energy.’ It ended up being a good decision because we came out and played at a real high level early.”

Fans aren’t normally allowed to bring signs into the stadium for games, but the morning’s event was an exception. Students had signs saying everything from, “Kalin is a girl’s name,” to “Are you hungry for some Billy Cole slaw?”

Weber challenged Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo to a free-throw contest to raise money for Coaches vs. Cancer. Although Weber appeared a little embarrassed to lose to Izzo, the coaches agreed to donate $50,000 apiece.