Rare win at Wisconsin gives Illinois some early January momentum, but can they keep it?
CHAMPAIGN – Make no mistake, missing the NCAA Tournament for a seventh-straight year would be quite unacceptable for those who root for the orange and blue.
In the third year of the Brad Underwood era with a collection of talent on the team that’s the best in the years, many expected this year to be the one that Illinois makes the “Big Dance” for the first time since 2013.
But early on, the road for the Illini has been up-and-down, with inconsistency being the storyline of their play in November and December. They dropped a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game to Miami win which they were down by 27 points in the first half then made a rally only lost by two. Later that week, a 15-point lead at No. 3 Maryland evaporated in a 59-58 heartbreaking loss on the road.
A significant win over No. 5 Michigan, the first over a Top 5 opponent for the program since 2013, was then followed by a lackluster loss to rival Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game. Second half struggles at No. 14 Michigan State led to a 20-point loss to the Spartans to start the formal Big Ten season on January 2nd.
But in need of a win, the Illini have come through in their last two games, including a rather monumental victory on Wednesday night.
In a tight game throughout, Illinois pulled ahead in the final two minutes to pick up a 71-70 victory over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center on Wednesday. Former Morgan Park star Ayo Dosunmu hit a three-pointer with 46 seconds left that provided the winning points for a win over the Badgers that was a while in the making.
The victory over Wisconsin was the first for the school since 2011, having lost 15-consecutive games to the Badgers overall. The victory in Madison was the program’s first since 2010, which was worthy of a major celebration afterward.
It was the second-straight win for the Illini in the conference, and their Sunday performance against Purdue was also one to remember. The team set a program record by holding the Boilermakers to just 25 percent shooting from the floor as they allowed a season-low 37 points in 26-point victory at the State Farm Center.
The win puts Illinois back over the .500 mark in the conference at 3-2 as they prepare to host Rutgers on Saturday morning in Champaign. A victory would put them over halfway to their Big Ten win total from a season ago (7). They’ll need to keep stacking them to crack into the field of 68 this March, and fulfill the hopes of themselves and a fan base eager to return to the “Big Dance.”