Illini Basketball Classics: Shaq, LSU Travel to the Assembly Hall in 1990

It’s Illinois week on the Big Ten Network, with Shaquille O’Neal and his LSU teammates traveling to the Assembly Hall to take on the Fighting Illini in this 1990 contest (airing at 5 p.m. central).

With nothing else to do at the moment, I thought it would be cool to provide some “live” blogging during the Illini-LSU replay (courtesy of the Big Ten’s Greatest Games), which I was going to watch anyway.

I previously Tivo’d this game a couple of years ago and transferred  it to a DVD-R, but did not get to watch it (thus, most of this game will be new to me, especially since I was in the third grade when this game actually took place).

Anyways, I will try to provide some commentary on the previous game action during every television timeout.

With that said, here are the starters for this game from Saturday, December 22, 1990.

1990/1991 LSU (6-1 at the time and ranked 11th in the country):

Forward #24 Vernel Singleton (6-7′ Junior)

Forward #22 Shawn Griggs (6-6 Sophomore)

Center #33 Shaquille O’Neal (7-1 Sophomore)

Guard #20 T.J. Pugh (6-0 Junior)

Guard #11 Mike Hansen (6-1 Sophomore)

Head Coach: Dale Brown

1990/1991 Illinois (8-3 at the time, and unranked):

Forward #25 Deon Thomas (6-9 Freshman)

Forward #34 Andy Kaufmann (6-6 Junior)

Center #50 Andy Kpedi (6-7 Senior)

Guard #23 Larry Smith (6-4 Senior)

Guard #11 Rennie Clemons (6-0 Freshman)

Head Coach: Lou Henson

Officials: Ted Hillary, Verl Sell, Randy Drury

Announcers: Some Unfamiliar White Guy and Cheryl Miller

5:03 pm: Illinois comes out rocking the old school orange uniforms and LSU in the bright yellow, with both team’s shorts just above the knees (note: Michigan’s Fab Five was a year away from transforming the fashion of the college game).

5:10 pm: Shaq’s size is apparent early with three blocks by the 17:35 mark of the first half. On consecutive possessions, O’Neal blocks a Clemons’ layup, Kaufmann misses everything on a three, and Kpedi follows up with another air ball. By the under sixteen timeout, Illinois has five turnovers and is down by eight (14-6), although O’Neal has only four points but is showing his ability to pass out of the double team and on the outlet (traits that all big men should possess), initiating an easy LSU fast break and score.

5:12 pm: Illinois comes out on a 5-0 spurt, thanks to a Thomas free throw and layup off a rebound, and a Smith bucket in the lane. O’Neal counters with another assist out of the double team before the Illini take a timeout after failing to inbound the ball. LSU leads 16-11, with all of the Illini’s points coming from inside the lane (quite surprising considering O’Neal’s constantly looming presence).

5:24 pm: Freshman phenom Deon Thomas gets active down low, hitting a free throw and then drawing the first foul on O’Neal with a series of pump fakes that trick the big man, who is chomping at the bit to block the basketball. After a cold start from the outside, Kaufmann scores six points in the lane, and more importantly, draws a second foul on O’Neal (a questionable blocking call), who is briefly replaced by Geert Hammink (a chubby, Dolph Lundgren look-a-like who actually got a sip of coffee in the NBA, with the Bullets I believe). Anyways, the Illini are making a push here and picking up their defense, as Thomas delivers a nasty block and O’Neal is inserted back into the game despite his foul troubles.

5:29 pm: Getting frustrated by Illinois’ physical and collapsing play, O’Neal is hit with a technical foul after grabbing a rebound and throwing an elbow at Illinois freshman forward Scott Pierce. Kaufmann makes one of two free throws, and the Illini lead 23-22 just under the 10-minute mark. O’Neal quickly returns and gets his eighth point on an alley-oop pass from the top of the key. Deon Thomas responds with a dunk of his own off a sweet baseline spin move. Despite eight turnovers, the Illini lead 25-24 at the under-seven timeout.

5:41 pm: The surprising Pierce continues his strong defense against Shaq-Fu, hits a long two and then denies a post pass to the LSU center. Enter Geert (pronounced like Joe Girt) and his 8-foot-high spiked hair to replace O’Neal and the rat tail/cotton ball on the back of his neck. Thomas scores his eighth and ninth points and is off to a 4-for-5 start, and Kaufmann gets to the line for two makes after drawing a foul on another interior drive. The Illini are beginning to take control as Pierce follows a Clemons’ miss for a fastbreak tap in/putback and a 33-26 lead. All the while, O’Neal sits with eight points and two fouls. Thomas gets Hammink out of his shorts with another pump fake, and then makes both free throws for a 35-29 Illini lead. “Geert Nowitzki” responds with a layup and strong defensive rebound (apparently there is some life to this stiff). Illini turnovers keep LSU in the game, as Hammink all of a sudden is a force, commanding the ball down low and drawing a foul (before clanking both free throws). Illini up four, 37-33, at the under four timeout.

5:52 pm: Ernie’s Neat-o-stat of the game (thus far): The Illini have 25 rebounds (13 on the offensive glass) to LSU’s 13 total boards. LSU’s Vernel Singelton is quietly keeping LSU in the game with eight points. Illinois in the double bonus, with freshman Thomas Michael (who I believe still works within the Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics) drawing a foul and making two free throws. Miller and the color guy talk about Thomas sitting out a season (thank you Bruce Pearl) as LSU’s Pugh hits two free throws and cuts the game to two. Singleton ties the game at 39 with a nice mid-range jumper and Kaufmann has another shot blocked. Illinois sophomore Tim Geers breaks the tie with two freebies before Pugh responds with a one-hand push shot and a smooth, fast-break layup. Down 43-41, the struggling Kaufmann draws a clever foul on the outside and sends the game into the half tied with two more free throws. Thomas has 11 points and 5 rebounds and O’Neal 8 points, 4 blocks and 2 fouls at the break. Yet having found his “typically money” jumper, Kaufmann still has 14 points, thanks to taking his game inside the arc and getting to the charity stripe.

6:01 pm: Coming out of the half, Illinois tries a set lob to Clemons, but O’Neal snags the ball out the air and fires to Pugh for a layup. After the Tigers miss another golden fast-break opportunity, Clemens hits a baseline jumper. LSU’s Hansen hits the first three of the game, and Smith responds with a layup. This game is picking up the pace as Kpedi retakes the lead for Illinois on a strong layup created by the driving Kaufmann. Shaq scores an easy two for its first points in a long time and then blocks Kaufmann on the other end, treating the Illini star like a rag doll in the process. Mike Hansen buries another three, and the Tigers are up 53-50, drawing a gasp out of the Assembly Hall crowd. Announcers tell us that Shaq can jump and touch something that is 12 feet, 8 inches off the ground. Showing his own hops and fluid athleticism, Thomas crashes the boards, draws a foul and hits one of two free throws. We are reminded yet again of Thomas sitting out the last season, and the Illini being on probation. O’Neal grabs an offensive rebound (LSU’s first in a long time), shows a Chamberlain-like ball fake and simply drops the ball in the hoop. Kaufmann scores his first two of the second half on another interior bucket before LSU’s scorching hot Hansen hits a banker. Illini senior Larry Smith scores a bucket in close, and the Tigers lead 57-56 at the under 16 timeout.

6:12 pm: Out of the t.v. timeout, LSU commits a turnover as the announcers prattle on about the three-year probation. Clemons scores a twisting layup and the Illini retake the lead, 58-57. Illinois goes to the 2-3 zone (not noted by the announcers, who are still talking about the probation and loss of scholarships). After LSU and Illini fail to score, Hansen hits another three, giving him 11 points in the half and 17 for the game. Smith hits a banker for his 10th point as the game is nodded at 60. Hansen finally misses a three before Thomas snags the defensive rebound from O’Neal. Kaufmann then takes an offensive rebound from the lethargic O’Neal (who commits another foul), but Thomas draws air on an ensuing jumper. Singleton splits a pair of free throws, and the Tigers go to the 2-3 zone with a 61-60 lead. Kaufmann has a lefty shot blocked by O’Neal, who then draws a foul on Thomas at the other end. Pierce replaces Thomas, who now has four fouls. At the line for the first time tonight, O’Neal drains two free throws, hardly showing the shot-put free throw style that has plagued him in the NBA. Seemingly drifting in the clouds, O’Neal lets Kpedi score inside and the Illini follow with a Kaufman layup and one-point lead on a nice dish from Smith. Waking up, O’Neal grabs an offensive rebound and throws the ball off the backboard and into the hoop. Then trying to swat a Clemons shot into the third level at the Assembly Hall, O’Neal swings and misses, ultimately crashing hard to the floor and spraining his right ankle. LSU leads by one at the under 12 timeout, though O’Neal’s health could be a factor the rest of the way, at least according to the nameless announcer.

6:23 pm: O’Neal is predictably OK but on the bench. The Illini are shooting 42 percent for the game when Clemons draws a foul on Geert Diggler, who is replaced by the Big Aristotle. Clemons hits two free throws, and the Illni lead. Both teams get up and down for a few possessions but don’t score until O’Neal follows up a Hansen miss for his first dunk of the game. Smith, though, gets behind O’Neal on the other end and makes a layup. O’Neal rushes a shot but the Illini turn it over. O’Neal seemingly has a dunk but dishes off for a tough assist. Illinois turns the ball over again, LSU fails to capitalize and Kaufmann’s rare outside shooting woes continue. LSU with 18 points off turnovers; Illinois with 2 thus far. O’Neal hits a jump hook on the baseline as LSU seems to be gaining control, that is until Smith grabs an offensive rebound over O’Neal, draws a foul and hits two free throws. O’Neal goes over the back of Kpedi on the following possession for his fourth foul. LSU with 9 team fouls, Illinois with 4. Kpedi hits the one-and-one and follows with another freebie. The Illini are back on top. Quiet in the second half, LSU’s Singleton misses two free throws as Illinois’ 72-71 lead holds. However, O’Neal takes over defensively, blocking a Clemons layup, snatching a rebound among the Illini trees and then firing to Hansen for a layup and one-point lead. O’Neal then blocks another Illini shot before goaltending a Kpedi put back. The Illini are up one at the under eight timeout, though Shaq is really starting to exert himself.

6:27 pm: Dale Brown working the officials, saying the Illini are hammering O’Neal down low (LSU has 21 fouls, Illinois just 11 thanks to three Big Ten officials doing this game). As ABC puts up a graphic displaying LSU’s 11-4 advantage in the blocked shot category, Kpedi blocks an LSU shot. Kaufmann travels on the ensuing break, but Hansen turns it right back over for LSU in this sloppy affair. Kaufmann finally cans a long jumper, first declared a three and then changed to a two. Up 76-73, the Illini take a five-point lead when Michael hits a jumper out of the corner, causing Brown to burn a timeout.

6:31 pm: OK. The announcer’s name is Roger Twibell (nice to know with 6:03 remaining in the game). Twibell is actually a decent play-by-play man, at least in this game.  Illinois up 50-28 on the boards (Shaq should run suicides for a week). O’Neal responds by ripping a rebound away from Thomas, and Hansen drills a three. The pesky Tigers are staying in this thing, but Larry Smith seemingly won’t let the Illini lose, driving the lane and dishing to Kpedi for a layup. Singleton is limping and another timeout is taken, with the Illini up 80-76.

6:35 pm: OK. LSU is not charged with a timeout as refs declare it an injury timeout. Showing his thanks, Hansen hits a long two before Kaufmann buries a three (the Illini’s first of the game) to give the Illini a five-point lead. LSU misses a quick shot and Smith takes advantage, getting an and-one on an aggressive layup. Up 7 with under four minutes to go, the Orange Krush is rocking in their stone-washed jeans. The Illini are 1-for-9 from beyond the arc but winning this game due to their board work and interior penetration.

6:42 pm: Illinois is on 13-5 run in last four minutes, with Smith ready to complete the old-fashioned three point play (which he does). LSU’s Shawn Griggs hits a three as the Tigers bring full-court pressure. Thomas fouls out on an errant Michael pass in the post, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Thomas with only 1 point in the second half. Back to game action, Shaq hits a baby hook. Down to a three point game, Illinois turns it over before Griggs misses a chip shot. Michael snags a strong defensive rebound, but Kauffman misses two layups. With the roof at the Assembly Hall about to blow off with this breakneck action, LSU misses another point-blank shot, and Clemons is fouled over the back by Griggs. Clemons hits both free throws, and the Illini are back up five with 2:20 left. The undersized Kpedi pushes O’Neal off the block but draws a foul, sending Shaq to the line for a one-and-one (which is missed badly). Singleton has the rebound stripped by Clemons. On a 2-on-1 break, Clemons hits Smith who returns the favor with a sweet assist on a Clemons’ layup and seven-point lead. Hanson hits another three, but Griggs fouls out while applying full court pressure.

6:51 pm: At the stripe, Clemons smoothly hits two more (now 7-of-8 at the line), and the Illini are up 92-86 with 1:30 left. O’Neal is fouled by Kpedi, who has now fouled out and is replaced by Pierce. O’Neal toes the line for his fourth and fifth three throws (both makes). However, the Illini are plus 15 (34 to 19) in free throw attempts at this point. Clemons pushes the ball after O’Neal’s makes and feeds Pierce for a layup. Employing the hack-a-Shaq, Michaels fouls the LSU star, who hits two more free throws (apparently December 22, 1990 was a full moon). The Illini then turn the ball over against the press, clinging to a four point lead in spite of 21 turnovers. The Tigers quickly feed the ball to O’Neal who is hammered by Pierce with 56 seconds left. Shaq makes the first free throw and then the second (he is an amazing 8-for-9 from the line). Against the pressure, Clemons’ speed pays dividends, leading to a 3-on-1 fast break against O’Neal. Clemons attacks O’Neal, hits a layup and fouls out the LSU star. Shaq finishes with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 7 blocked shots, but it’s not looking good for his Tigers.

7 pm: Clemons completes the three point play, Illinois up 97-92 with 40 seconds left. Cheryl Miller says she is a believer in Illinois following this game and a recent win over Missouri. With O’Neal out, LSU’s Geert turns the ball over. Completing taking this game over, Clemons gets on the break and nearly dunks over Geert, missing the attempt but drawing a foul. Clemons hits one of two free throws and the Illini lead 98-92 with 27.6 seconds left and LSU burning another timeout. Clemons with a monster second half (and last four minutes), with a career-high 19 points to show for his effort. Miller questions why the Tigers have gone away from Hansen (who is 5-from-9 from three). Miller is also giving the Illini the premature victory even though 30 seconds remain. Not done, Hansen pushes the ball and hits a layup, cutting the game to 98-94 with 20 seconds left. Sloppy editing by the BTN brings us to Twibell saying the following to Miller: “All I want for Christmas is a new right knee.” OK. Out of the timeout, Michael inbounds the ball to Kaufmann, who is fouled. Kauffman hits both free throws for his 24th and 25th points (to go with 9 rebounds and no jump shot this game). A desperate LSU misses several attempts before fouling Pierce, who hits both free throws (including a lucky bounce on his first freebie). Hansen pads his stats with a gimme layup at the buzzer as the Illini win 102-96 and upset the 11th ranked Tigers. Final: Illinois 102, LSU 96.

Post-game analysis: Despite O’Neal’s size, the Illini played bigger than their height and were stronger than the Tigers on the boards, overcoming a miserable shooting performance from the outside. A total team effort (Thomas and Kaufmann in the first half; Clemons, Smith and Kpedi in the second half; and a strong contribution from Pierce, plus some Big Ten officiating) propels the Illini to an at-times very sloppy but mostly entertaining and frenetic upset. As for Shaq, he dominated at times, but looked a bit passive in other instances (perhaps from the Illini’s swarming defense). Still, this game was a great preview of his potential to become one of the game’s most dominating centers of all time.

What both teams would do the rest of the way in 1990-1991: Barred from the 1991 NCAA Tournament, the Illini would finish 21-10 (11-7 in the Big Ten).  Here’s a breakdown of that season.

As for the Tigers, they would be a 6-seed in the Midwest region, where they were upset in the first round by the 11-seed UCONN Huskies. Shaq would average 27.6 points per game in 1990/91 and return the following season, when he averaged less (24.1 ppg) but advanced one more round (Indiana destroyed LSU in the second round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament). In his three years at LSU, Shaq would never reach the Sweet Sixteen. Following his junior season, he would go pro and be the first overall selection of the Orlando Magic in the 1992 NBA Draft.

Anyways, hope you enjoyed this trip down Illini basketball memory lane. Maybe I’ll do another one of these this week. Until tomorrow.

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Tags: Andy Kaufmann Andy Kpedi Big Ten's Greatest Games Dale Brown Deon Thomas Illini Basketball Illini Basketball Classics Larry Smith Lou Henson LSU Basketball Renny Clemons Scott Pierce Shaquille O'Neal Thomas Michael

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