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What Were The 10 Most Memorable Illinois Games During the 2010s?

What were the most memorable games for the Illini during the 2010s?

Michigan State v Illinois Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With the 2019-’20 college basketball season wrapping up, it’s a great time to look back on the decade for the Big Ten. While the league didn’t win a national championship during the 2010s, it did send a variety of teams to the Final Four and had plenty of quality play.

So, in that mindset, BTP is looking at the most memorable games for each Big Ten team during the 2010s. These aren’t necessarily the most significant or the most fiercely contested games. Rather, they’re the most memorable. So, just because a game came in the postseason doesn’t guarantee it a spot on this list.

But before we jump in, a few other notes on our criteria. To qualify for this list, a game needed to happen sometime between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019. I realize that cuts between two seasons, but that’s the criteria we’re using. A team also didn’t have to win a game for it to make this list. For instance, Michigan’s loss to Louisville in the 2013 title game was certainly memorable, even though the Wolverines didn’t come out on top.

With that, let’s look at the 10 most memorable games for the Fighting Illini over the last decade.

The Most Memorable Indiana Games During The 2010s:

- #5 Michigan St. @ Illinois (February 6, 2010) — Illinois 78, Michigan St. 73

It felt appropriate to start at the beginning of the decade with College Gameday’s first and only appearance at the old Assembly Hall. Both teams entered in the running for a Big Ten title and were carried on this particular night by two monster individual performances. Draymond Green came off the bench to lead the Kalin Lucas-less Spartans in points (17), rebounds (16), assists (3), and blocks (1). It wasn’t enough to overcome Demetri McCamey’s 22 points and 11 assists in 39 minutes. Two all-conference caliber players going at it.

- Illinois vs. Minnesota (March 14, 2013) — Illinois 51, Minnesota 49

This was one of those sigh-of-relief games for Illini fans as opposed to exuberance. It was the first round of the conference tournament, Illinois as the 8-seed against the 9-seeded Gophers. They held the lead at the half before allowing Minnesota (who scored only 16 first-half points) to take the lead after the intermission. Brandon Paul thankfully hit a fade-away, mid-range jumper as the game clock expired to win it for Illinois, avoiding disaster. That shot alone swung the pendulum, sending the Illini to the NCAA Tourney.

- Illinois vs. Miami (FL) (March 24, 2013) — Illinois 59, Miami 63

Just over a week after Brandon Paul’s game-winner in the conference tournament, these two teams met in the Round of 32. The lead alternated throughout the game and Shane Larkin hit a step-back three to take a two-point lead with one minute left. Illinois missed a three that would’ve taken the lead and the ball was knocked out of bounds on the rebound. Possession was given to the Hurricanes despite replay clearly showing otherwise. While there’s no guarantee that the Illini would have scored had the right call been made, it still must sting for Illinois fans having that kind of what-if hanging over the outcome of this game.

- #13 Illinois @ #10 Gonzaga (December 8, 2012) — Illinois 85, Gonzaga 74

Both Gonzaga and Illinois entered this matchup in Spokane ranked in the top 15. Brandon Paul went off for 35 points to lead the Illini to victory over the Bulldogs. This Gonzaga team, led by Kelly Olynyk, was the first in school history to achieve a No. 1 ranking, earning that distinction in March of 2013. They also were one of the more disappointing one-seeds in recent tournament history when they lost to Wichita State in the Round of 32. Regardless, this was a matchup between two really talented teams that Illini fans should look back on kindly.

- #1 Indiana @ Illinois (February 7, 2013) — Indiana 72, Illinois 74

I don’t know what it is about the 2012-13 Fighting Illini team but they sure loved theatrics. With the game tied and the shot clock off, Tom Crean put the ball in Victor Oladipo’s hands. Oladipo went behind his back on a drive and lost control of it. DJ Richardson went in for the game-winning layup with 3 seconds left before Oladipo made a heroic swat of the ball out of bounds. The Illini ran a baseline set that resulted in Tyler Griffey getting the easiest two points in his college career, sending Champaign into pandemonium. This was the marquee win that the Illini needed for a tournament resume, and it kickstarted a five-game winning streak in the all-important month of February.

- Illinois vs. Missouri (December 20, 2014) — Illinois 62, Missouri 59

This may be one of the more forgotten teams of the past decade for the Illini, being that they lacked the star power of a Demetri McCamey or Brandon Paul, and the young guys like Kendrick Nunn and Leron Black had not developed yet. Regardless, this is one of the more memorable shots of the John Groce era. The Illini took on Mizzou in the Braggin’ Rights Game in St. Louis, with the Scottrade Center packed with fans for both programs. Rayvonte Rice hit a step-back three over two Mizzou defenders to win it.

- Illinois @ Northwestern (January 4, 2012) — Illinois 57, Northwestern 56

This one admittedly has very little ramifications for the Illini in terms of the big picture and season outlook, but when I think of Meyers Leonard’s time in Champaign, this is the exact play that comes to mind. Welsh-Ryan Arena was probably 60% Illini fans and, with a chance to win it, Drew Crawford forced the issue by going to the hole. Leonard somehow got a fingertip on the ball to prevent the layup from falling, securing the win for the Illini. This game cemented in my mind Leonard’s standing as one of the better big men in the country that year.

- Illinois @ Rutgers (February 3, 2016) — Illinois 110, Rutgers 101 (3OT)

This marked Illinois’s third overtime game in a week and a half, this one going to three OTs. Rutgers entered the game winless in conference but both teams had big-time contributions from a few of their respective players leading to some ridiculous stat lines. Malcolm Hill put up 32 and 14 rebounds. Jalen Coleman-Lands scored a career-high 26 points. Corey Sanders put up 39, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds. Two players on Rutgers recorded at least 50 minutes played. The most crazy stat in my eyes is the offensive breakdown of Rutgers. They had four guys - Omari Greer, Mike Williams, Jonathan Laurent, and Sanders - combine for 95 of their 101 points. A truly crazy statline game.

- #1 Ohio State @ #22 Illinois (January 22, 2011) — Ohio State 73, Illinois 68

Illinois came ranked and coming off another top 25 victory over #17 Michigan State. A win over top-ranked Ohio State would have been a huge leaping point for the Illini heading into February. The Illini were down late and trying to claw their way back when Mike Tisdale hit a three to bring them within one. Instead, the Buckeyes led by Jared Sullinger and David Lighty held on to stay undefeated. The Illini ultimately went .500 in conference to close out the season, losing to Kansas in the Round of 32.

- #5 Michigan @ Illinois (December 11, 2019) — Illinois 71, Michigan 62

The Wolverines entered this game with probably the best resume in the country after beating Creighton, Iowa State, UNC (we thought they were good at the time; we were wrong) and Gonzaga. Then they came into Champaign to take on a talented Illini team led by two future draft picks - Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. Illinois led pretty much the whole game on their way to an impressive victory. This marked their first win over a top-five team since they knocked off #1 Indiana in 2013. If this list were to include the entire 2019-20 season, it’s safe to say there would have been more games from this past season represented, including the Dosunmu buzzer beater against Michigan in January.