A tearful Malcolm Hill helps Illinois keep their momentum going into March
CHAMPAIGN – A touch of madness brought tears of appreciation and reflection after 40 minutes of solid Big Ten competition.
Sure Malcolm Hill had a lot to do with sending the sellout crowd at the State Farm Center on Wednesday with his game-high 22 points, but it was his interview with the Big Ten Network following Illinois’ victory over Michigan State that left the biggest impression.
As his final game with the Illini at home ended, the guard became emotional as he spoke to Big Ten Network commentator Jon Crispin.
“It means a lot,” said Hill when asked about winning in front of his family, who was in attendance for the Senior Night ceremony.
As the tears started, the guard tried his best to collect himself for the rest of the interview.
“These last four years, they’ve meant a lot for me,” said Hill, crying more as he continued to talk. “My family has been there for me since Day 1, the fan support has been unbelievable.”
That interview proved to be the most memorable moment of a memorable finish for what seemed a lost Illinois basketball team just a few weeks back. But thanks to Hill’s play along with the rest of his teammates, they can still hold onto a bit of the Big Dance dreams to which they started the season with back in the fall.
Even with the odds against them to do so, the Illini made their case as a tournament-worthy team with a 73-70 win over a Michigan State team that beat Wisconsin this past weekend. It’s their fourth victory in a row and their fifth in sixth games, improving the team to 18-12 overall and 8-9 in the Big Ten.
With a win at Rutgers Saturday John Groce’s team would reach .500 in the conference – a feat that seemed unlikely when they were 3-8 in early February.
The win over the Spartans is their third win in this current last season run over a team likely headed to the NCAA Tournament, with two others coming against Northwestern. It wasn’t without stress as a ten point Illinois lead was trimmed down to one in the final minute of the game, but the Illini had just enough down the stretch to hold on.Lourawls Nairn Jr.
On the final play of the game, Illinois’ defense put enough pressure on Lourawls Nairn Jr. to force a bad attempt at the game-winning shot. It ushered in some of the loudest cheers from a State Farm Center crowd of the season and brought out the tears from their best player.