Illini Basketball Classics: Kenny Battle Wrecks GA Tech in 1989

As part of Illinois Week on the Big Ten Network, the classic 1989 contest between Georgia Tech and the Illini at the Assembly Hall will be showing at 2 pm central.

Once again, Writing Illini will be doing live blogging of this replay courtesy of The Big Ten’s Greatest Games.

Let’s take a look at the starters for this game from January 22, 1989 (when I was in the first grade).

Of course, this game is a rematch from a December 29, 1988 game in Hawaii, where the Illini prevailed 80-75.

1988-1989 Georgia Tech (11-4 entering this game)

Forward Anthony Sherrod

Forward Johnny McNeil

Center Tom Hammonds

Guard Brian Oliver

Guard Dennis Scott

Head Coach: Bobby Cremins

I could not find Tech’s 88-89 roster, so I am not confident on the exact years that each of these players were. I’m certain that Hammonds and Sherrod were seniors and that Oliver, Scott and McNeil were all on the ’89-90 Tech squad.

1988-1989 Illinois Fighting Illini (16-0 entering this game)

Forward Nick Anderson (6-6 Junior)

Forward Kenny Battle (6-6 Senior)

Center Lowell Hamilton (6-7 Senior)

Guard Kendall Gill (6-4 Junior)

Guard Stephen Bardo (6-6 Junior)

Head Coach Lou Henson (13th season at Illinois)

Announcers: Keith Jackson and Dick Vitale

2:06 pm Illinois comes out sporting the white uniforms while Georgia Tech is in the blue and gold. A battle of athleticism as opposed to size. Illini miss first shot, Tech scores on first possession, a Scott jumper. Illinois turnover leads to Georgia Tech fastbreak and layup for McNeil. Hamilton gets the Illini on the board with a nice turnaround jumper just below the free throw line and ties the game with a banker off the glass. Illinois brings the full-court pressure. Anderson and Hamilton swat two straight Georgia Tech interior baskets, and Bardo draws a foul on the push. Bardo hits Anderson on a nice baseline cut for a 6-4 lead. The late Sherrod hits a bank shot, drawing a foul and hitting the free throw for a traditional three-point play. Kill throws a loop to Battle, who can’t complete the dunk but is fouled on the play (apparently on the floor). The Illini are really trying to push the tempo here. Hamilton turns it over on a travel. Scott cans a baseline jumper and Tech leads by three. Anderson misses a tough fadeaway bank shot, and Battle is hit with an over-the-back foul on Sherrod. Georgia Tech leads 9-6 at the television timeout.

2:11 pm: Dick Vitale says that Gill and Oklahoma’s Mookie Blaylock are the best defensive guards in the country after Gill deflects a pass out of bounds. The Illini turn Georgia Tech over in the halfcourt and score on a Gill baseline jumper off the break. Dennis Scott hits another outside jumper. Tech goes to the 2-3 zone and Battle misses a baseline jumper. Scott hits a three on a Georgia Tech break. Bardo misses a jumper against the zone, and Scott cans another jumper as Georgia Tech is running Illinois out of the gym, forcing Henson to call a timeout. Georgia Tech 16, Illinois 8 as Scott is a scorching hot 5-for-5 from the field.

2:23 pm: Larry Smith checks in for the Illini. Struggling from the perimeter, Illinois hits Battle inside on a curl screen. Battle misses the shot but draws a foul and makes his two free throws. Vitale alludes to high school star Kenny Anderson, who is signed with Georgia Tech and will go there for college if he is eligible. Hammonds and Battle trade baseline jumpers as Georgia Tech leads 18-12. Scott sets up Georgia Tech reserve big man Britton (not sure about spelling or first name, as telecast hasn’t said it and I can’t find a roster online for this team) on a beautiful interior feed, and Hamilton responds with another turnaround jumper from behind the free throw line. Off the bench, Britton hits a jumper inside the lane. The Illini push the ball and Gill hits a three. The game is picking up, with both teams going scoreless on their next possessions until a Hammonds’ banker. Battle misses a baseline jumper against the zone, which is slowing the Illini. Oliver turns the ball over, allowing Marcus Liberty to enter the game for the Illini. Gill bricks a three off a post feed from Anderson, who looks like a man among boys with his upper body strength. Liberty scores on a fast break, and Anderson is called for an over-the-back foul against Britton. Illini reserve big man Ervin Small fouls Hammonds. GA Tech with 5 team fouls, Illinois with 4. An Oliver jumper in the lane is negated by an offensive foul, with Gill taking a beautiful charge. Tech up 24-19 against the undefeated Illini (the only team that hasn’t lost in Division I at this point in the 1989 season). Liberty misses an off-balance jumper and Scott makes Illinois pay with another three (6-for-6 from the field). Battle hits a beautiful jumper in the lane as Tech leads by six with a little more than 8 minutes to play. Georgia Tech backup point guard Kenny Brown is called for a charge against Liberty. Battle misses a turnaround, and the refs miss the call, giving the ball to Georgia Tech though it was knocked out by a Tech player. Liberty shows his athleticism with a strong interior rebound. High-riser Kenny Battle rebounds a Gill miss and lays it in, making it a 27-23 game. On the attack, Illinois pushes the ball on a long Georgia Tech miss, with a slashing Gill drawing a foul. Gill splits the freebies heading into the timeout. Georgia Tech 27, Illinois 24 with 7:04 remaining.

2:28 pm: Oliver gets on the scoreboard with a nice drive and layup. Tech packing in the zone, and Nick Anderson misses an inside jumper. Hammonds hits Scott on a beautiful feed at the free throw line. Scott scores the basket and draws the foul on Liberty. Scott hits the free throw and has 17 points as Georgia Tech now leads by eight. Anderson bricks a baseline banker against the zone. McNeil hits a turnaround jumper in the lane, and the Illini are now down 12, looking a bit flat and flummoxed by the Tech zone. Lou-Do needs and takes a t.o. baby.

2:37 pm: Illinois down 40-28 with 2:30 left. Both teams miss jumpers on their first possessions out of the break before Gill draws a foul on Oliver (his third) and hits both free throws. Bringing the pressure, Gill knocks the ball away from Brown, who is called for a hold. Illinois in the bonus, and Gills hits the first but misses the second. Sherrod feeds Britton for a slam out of the four-corner offense. Gill misses a jumper and Liberty goes over the back for his second foul. McNeil at the charity stripe for a one-and-one. McNeil swishes the first but bricks the second. Britton secures the offensive rebound as the Illini are really flat right now, with two Illini players letting the ball go through their hands. Georgia Tech once again goes to the four corners to burn some time before the half, with 50 seconds remaining. Tech scores on a layup, testing the Illinois’ patience and extending to a 45-31 lead. Battle misses a turnaround, Bardo misses a jumper and Battle misses again at the halftime horn as Tech leads by 14 at the break. The Flying Illini have been grounded in the first 20 minutes, failing to get on the break, struggling mightily from the outside and looking tentative against the zone. Tech has been led by Scott, who has 18 points and not missed from the field (8-for-8). Bobby Cremins has had a very effective game plan thus far. Henson is sure to give the Illini an earful at the break.

2:42 pm: Tech gets the ball first, and hits Hammond for an interior bucket. Down 16, the Illini work the ball against the zone before Anderson notices a crack and goes for a jam, drawing a foul on McNeil. Anderson rattles in the first and second free throws. Illinois brings the full court pressure, and Sherrod immediately travels. In a blink of an eye, Bardo hits Battle on a lob dunk as the Assembly Hall awakens. Tech slows the game down, drawing out its possessions and judiciously using the shot clock. Sherrod misses a baseline jumper and McNeil travels after snagging the rebound. Cremins is already looking up at the game clock as if he’s feeling some uneasiness about where this game is going. GA Tech goes to a 1-3-1 zone but Hamilton hits on a quick, interior bucket and the crowd is going crazy. Cremins calls a timeout, with Illinois down 10 but gaining momentum. Someone must have said something to the Illini at halftime.

2:5o pm: 47-37 Tech with the Illini on a 6-2 run. Illinois brings the defensive pressure, causing two deflections. Georgia Tech is called for an offensive foul, against McNeil. The Orange Crush is rocking. Gill moves to the point and Bardo to the off guard. Anderson misses a jumper in the lane, but the ball deflects off Tech. Georgia Tech takes away the inbound pass and pushes the ball on the break, with Oliver feeding Scott, who is fouled on the play. The future Orlando Magic marksmen makes both free throws for his 19th and 20th points of the game and a 12-point Tech lead. Vitale notes how quiet Gill and Bardo have been as Hamilton misses an open jumper. Tech working the clock, playing a disciplined game. Oliver misses a three and Gill apparently knocks the ball out of bounds, but the refs give it to Illinois. The frigid Anderson bricks another one, and Hamilton misses two tip-ins. The ball is deflected out of bounds and remains with Illinois. Hamilton bricks another jumper and Sherrod hits a baseline jumper on a Dennis Scott penetration. Gill bricks a jumper, but Hamilton grabs the bucket and scores off the glass before getting called for an offensive foul. The basket counts, though, thanks to this silly rule that is now invalid in college basketball. Oliver turns the ball over against the press, but Hamilton clanks another one. Making up for the miss, Hamilton deflects the ball with Georgia Tech running its offense in the half court, and Bardo gets on the break, hitting Gill for a 360 layup.

2:58 pm: Tech up 51-41 with 15 minutes left. A lot of game to be played here. Tech’s Sherrod misses a baseline jumper that rims in and out. Bardo finally gets on the scoreboard with a quick banker. Britton hits a short jumper, giving the Ramblin’ Wreck a nice spark off the bench. Bardo drills a three from the top of the key and is suddenly alive. 53-46 Tech. Battle is called for a blocking foul against Hammonds, who should have had his fourth foul there. Hamilton commits an aggressive pushing foul denying an entry foul. Hamilton, not Hammonds, now has four. Another Illini foul here, as Erv Small is called for a foul against Hammonds on another entry attempt. The Illini and Yellow Jackets are tied up on the ensuing play, with the possession arrow going to Illinois. Anderson scores on the wing, and the Illini are only down five points. Anderson with 8 points. Scott misses a three (his first miss of the game) and Hammonds goes over the back for his third foul, not his fourth (apparently Keith Jackson was confused earlier :-)). Anderson misses a difficult turnaround jumper with 12:20 to go, but the ball deflects out of the bounds to the Illini. Anderson inexplicably misses a layup off a beautiful curl, but snags the offensive rebound and draws a foul on McNeil. Anderson is suddenly fired up, as he makes one of two free throws. Anderson’s future pro teammate Scott snags the rebound, but Tech has to take a timeout in the front court due to Illini pressure. Georgia Tech holds a tenuous 53-49 lead.

3:06 p.m. Hammonds hits a beautiful turnaround jumper to quiet the Illini crowd, that is, extemporaneously as Gill buries a three from the corner pocket. 56-53 Tech. An Oliver bucket is negated by an offensive foul, with Small taking the charge. Oliver with his fourth foul. Sherrod replaces Oliver, and Bardo immediately attacks, hitting a jumper for his 7th point in the second half. Tech’s 14-point halftime lead has been cut to just one. Scott misses again (what’s going on here?), but the future Washington Bullet/Denver Nugget Hammonds secures the offensive board and scores. Anderson misses a three with 10 minutes left. In the half court, Battle deflects a Tech pass and Anderson gets on the break, before he is fouled hard by Karl Brown. Anderson hits one of two free throws; however, Battle throws himself into the fray, grabs an athletic rebound and draws a foul on a crafty head fake. Vitale says Georgia Tech is on the ropes. Hammonds picks up his fourth, but Battle misses the first before hitting his second. 57-56 Georgia Tech. Hammonds remains on the court. Small is called for a foul over the back of Hammonds. Battle intercepts an interior pass to Scott. Bardo misses an acrobatic layup as Tech holds the lead and calls a timeout with 8:45 remaining. Tech 57, Illinois 56.

3:14 pm: The BTN skips ahead, with Georgia Tech leading 66-61 with 5:54 remaining. Both teams miss their ensuing shots. Tech goes to a 2-3 zone, but Gill cans a three (his second of the half). Hammonds is a silencer, hitting a mid-range jump shot and getting his 15th and 16th points. Illinois responds as Battle hits an acrobatic floater in the lane against McNeil, who commits the foul. Battle looked like he jumped off a springboard on that high-arching basket. Britton replaces McNeil as Battle completes the three-point play. Tech leads 68-67 with 4:19 remaining. The Yellow Jackets beat the press, but work some clock. Overall, a patient and disciplined effort for Ga Tech in this game. Oliver misses a jumper in the lane and Britton can’t connect on a stick back. Off the double screen, Bardo hits the three, giving Illinois a 2-point lead at 70-68. The Illini’s perseverance has finally paid off in the form of a lead. Britton quickly silences the raucous AH crowd with a baseline jumper. Anderson misses a baseline jumper and Britton grabs the rebound. However, Gill rips the ball out of his hands and scores an easy two. Pushing the ball, Scott draws Bardo’s fourth foul. At the line, Scott drains his 22nd and 23rd points, tying the game at 72 with 2:28 remaining in regulation.

3:21 pm: Georgia Tech has 10 of its 18 turnovers in the second half. Battle scores on a designed play and Scott misses on a rainbow three. Hammonds snags the board and later misses a mid-range jumper. Hamilton misses but the Illini grab the rebound. Illinois can’t seem to put this game away here, clinging to a 74-72 lead with 1:00 remaining. Gill misses a hanging jumper, and Battle nearly slams the rebound in but knocks the ball out of bounds. 45 seconds are left as Illinois drops back from its pressure. Hammonds hits a difficult and money jumper over Hamilton and Battle to tie the game, and Gill is down, grabbing his right foot. Noticeably limping, Gill stays on the court as Illinois calls the timeout. Illinois with the ball with 10 seconds left. Bardo rises and fires over Brown with five seconds left. His shot bounces off the back iron and the ball is deflected out of bounds with zeroes on the clock. We’re going to overtime, tied at 74.

3:32 pm: Battle and Hammonds jumping, with Hammonds winning the tip. Gill is out with his injured foot (described as a sprained ankle but actually a broken foot), and replaced by Larry Smith, who commits a questionable foul on Karl Brown, who was trapped by two Illini. A 44% free throw shooter, Brown hits them both, now 4-for-4 in the game. Tech up 76-74. Battle scores on the interior, spinning inside and reverse pivoting for a banker against Hammonds. Anderson knocks the ball away from Scott, who has been quiet in the second half. Oliver hits a deuce and Smith misses a surprisingly quick shot. Hammonds snags the ball, and Tech runs some more clock. The ball is deflected out of bounds by the Illini, to the dismay of the Champaign crowd. Hammonds hits another turnaround, for his 20th point and a 4-point Tech lead. Hamilton misses inside but keeps the possession alive by tipping the ball out to Bardo. On the extended possession, Smith is fouled by Hammonds, who has been huge in the second half but is now disqualified. Hit the road Jack. Hammonds finishes with 20 points and 5 boards. Smith toes the line and hits the first end of the one-and-one. Smith connects on the second and Tech’s lead is down to two. Amidst the pressure, Smith commits a dumb foul on Brown, a normally shaky free-throw shooter who has been clutch tonight. On cue, Brown touches no rim when making the first and drains the second for a 4-point Tech lead. Anderson misses a baseline jumper and Tech secures the ball with two minutes remaining. Going to the four corners, McNeil makes a bad cross-court pass out of the corner, which is stolen by Bardo. On the break, Bardo is long on a short jumper in the lane but fights for the offensive board, ultimately drawing a foul on Tech. Bardo drains the first and rattles in the second. Tech barely gets the ball across the half-court line with 1:35 remaining and a two point lead. Back to the stall game, Tech eventually turns the ball over, with Oliver unable to save a sloppy pass from Brown. The Illini take a timeout, down 82-80 with 1:02 remaining. Who should the Illini go to here? With Hammonds out, my bet would be Battle in the lane. We shall see.

3:38 pm: Illinois comes out and tentatively milks some clock. Bardo eventually takes a forced shot in the lane but draws another foul while going for an offensive rebound. Vitale notes how Georgia Tech has outplayed Illinois, and he’s right. Illinois’ athleticism has been key. Bardo hits both free throws. We are tied at 82 with 37 ticks remaining. Tech calls a timeout. Look for Dennis Scott here, with Oliver as the second option. Illinois’ full court pressure nearly forces a 10 second violation as Tech gets the ball across at 28 seconds. Tech works the clock down to 0:13 seconds and calls another timeout. Back to game action, Scott misses a rainbow three, but Sherrod grabs the rebound down low. With an open layup, Sherrod is stuffed by a hustling Battle, who came out of nowhere to save the game. The ball is tied up, with the arrow going to Illinois with 6 seconds remaining. Taking the ball out from full court, the frazzled Illini can only get a heave from Smith just inside the half court line. The ball caroms off the backboard as the horn expires. Double overtime. Game tied at 82. Battle saved the game with his play against Sherrod. Somehow the Illini are still in this thing, despite Tech playing with more poise all game.

3:44 pm: Going into the second overtime, you  have to wonder how much Tech can muster without Hammonds in the game. The Illini have been sloppy but have hung in there due to the free throw line late in the first overtime. Battle and Britton jumping, with the tap going to Smith, who is fouled by Scott. Smith makes both free throws for an 84-82 lead. Gill is still out of the game with his ankle injury, as described by Vitale. Smith bumps Brown, who proves steady again at the line, making both and going 8-for-8 at the stripe. Tech in the matchup zone as Illinois works the clock with the game nodded at 84. Anderson buries a three (his first bucket in a long time) to give Illinois a three-point lead with 4:15 remaining. Battle steals the ball at the half court but can not hold onto the ball as he was preparing to go up and slam home the ball. Georgia Tech has 21 turnovers and Illinois only three (a huge reason why the Illini are in second overtime). McNeil misses a forced shot, and Bardo hits a jumper to give Illinois an 89-84 lead with 3 minutes and change remaining. Vitale prematurely declares this game over, saying that the Illini will be #1 in the country.  A lot of time is left to declare this wacky contest far from over, though the Illini have finally gotten over the hump in taking a lead bigger than two points.

4:00 pm: Back to action following the Tech timeout, Scott misses a running floater. Jackson notes how there is a lot of time left. Scott has gone 1-of-6 in the second half after going 8-for-8 in the first half. Hamilton is fouled on the baseline, misses the first free throw but connects on the second. Illinois leads 90-84. Tech is really struggling without Hammonds’ presence. Scott clanks a three off the back iron and Smith is fouled over the back by McNeil during the pursuit of a loose rebound. Replacing Gill, Smith has hit four free throws thus far in the two overtimes. Make that six free throws as Smith extends the lead to 8. Battle steals the ball from Sherrod on the inbounds pass and makes a sick over-the-shoulder basket. Illinois is up 10. Scott misses again and the Illini secure the ball with 1:45 left. This game now looks over. Tech has only scored two points in the second overtime. Illinois is 11-for-12 in the overtime; however, Smith commits a charging foul. The Assembly Hall crowd is not affected, chanting “We’re number one.” Sherrod misses the front end of the one-and-one, and Illinois secures the rebound. Smith hits Battle on the baseline, with the Illini power forward closing this game with an emphatic two-hand dunk, plus the foul. Battle hits the free throw for his 25th point and the Illini are up 13 points. Vitale describes Battle as Flight 33, all the while the Illini crowd is going bananas (borrowing a term from the lexicon of current Illini Mike Davis). Britton grabs an offensive rebound and scores. Illinois is fouled, misses a free throw but secures the offensive board. Eventually Anderson makes a reverse layup to put the lead back to 13. An Anderson three cuts the game to 10 with 32 seconds left. This game is over as Smith steps to the line and bricks a free throw. The hardly-used Marcus Liberty grabs the board and is fouled. Liberty hits the first and second free throws. Illinois leads 101-89. Britton misses a reverse layup but the ball bounces out of founds off the Illini. Scott misses a three, and Anderson inexplicably rushes the ball up court before committing a charge. Battle is replaced by Mike MacDonald with 11 seconds remaining, high-fiving his teammates in celebration of the comeback “W.” The “We’re number one” chant reigns loud in the Assembly Hall. Scott hits a three and Anderson dunks the ball at the buzzer to cap the 103-92 final, a much tougher victory than the scoreboard indicates.

Postgame Analysis/Commentary: Illinois earns the school’s first-ever #1 ranking in basketball with a gutsy but hardly pretty (until the second overtime) victory against Tech, which was not the same once Hammonds left the floor.

Illinois gets a balanced effort from Battle (25 points), Gill (19 points), Anderson (18 points) and Bardo (14 points), with Hamilton also in double figures.

Led by Scott’s incredible shooting in the first half and Hammons yeoman-like effort in the final 20 minutes, Tech’s patient half-court execution eventually ran out of gas due to foul trouble and too many turnovers.

While up-and-down most of the game, Illinois finally played solid ball in the second overtime. Of course, the Illini also took care of the basketball all night long (allowing them to hang in the game). Illinois certainly benefits at the free throw line (especially in the first overtime), with Smith solid at the stripe until the game’s final minute.

Ultimately, this game is a testament to the 1989 Illini’s incredible athleticism, which could get them back in games even when facing big deficits. This game is also a reflection of the incredible amount of talent that was in college basketball in the late eighties (before leaving early would become the norm). Off the top of my head, 8 of the 10 starters in this game played in the NBA (GA Tech’s Hammonds, Scott and Oliver; Illinois’ Gill, Anderson, Battle, Liberty and Bardo).

What Each Team Did the Rest of the Way: Gill would miss significant time due to a broken foot suffered in the Tech game, and the Illini would lose its next game at Minnesota. The Illini would lose 4 regular season Big Ten contests, but go into the 1989 NCAA Tournament as a number-one seed with Gill back in action. As we all know, the Flyin’ Illini would make it to the Final Four in Seattle following a dramatic Elite Eight comeback against Syracuse. However, Illinois would lose to hated Michigan in overtime. Of course, the Illini beat Michigan both times in the regular season before Sean Higgins’ late putback over Nick Anderson ended their dream season. Michigan would go on to beat Seton Hall in the NCAA title game thanks to Rumeal Robinson’s clutch free throws (following a suspect blocking foul). Finishing 31-5, the 1988-1989 Illini team is considered by some to be one of the greatest teams not to win an NCAA title, with 1990-1991 UNLV and 1998-1999 Duke certainly also in that discussion.

As for the 1988-1989 Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech, they would finish 20-12 on the season and get a six seed in the Midwest Region (where Illinois was a #1 seed). Tech would be upset 76-70 in the first round by eleven-seed Texas, but make up for this disappointment in 1990. With Kenny Anderson passing his SATS and officially on board, Lethal Weapon Three (Anderson, Scott and Oliver) would lead the fourth-seed Yellow Jackets to the Final Four after an Elite Eight victory against Minnesota. Tech would lead at halftime of their Final Four game against UNLV, which would pull away in the second half and then crush Duke in the title game in Denver, Colorado.

On a sad note, Georgia Tech’s Sherrod (who was not on the 1990 Final Four team) would kill himself a couple of weeks after Tech lost to UNLV. Apparently, Sherrod suffered from manic depressive order, as described in this Sports Illustrated article from May 28, 1990.


Note: The BTN is showing the 1989 Illinois-Indiana game in which Nick Anderson wins it at the buzzer at 5pm central.

If you have never seen this classic, be sure to tune in or set your DVR.

Until tomorrow.

Tags: 1989 Illini Basketball Anthony Sherrod Big Ten's Greatest Games Bobby Cremins Brian Oliver Dennis Scott Ervin Small Flyin' Illini Flying Illini Georgia Tech Basketball Illini Basketball Illini Basketball Classics Illinois Hoops Illlinois Basketball Johnny McNeil Kendall Gill Kenny Anderson Kenny Battle Larry Smith Lou Henson Lowell Hamilton Nick Anderson Stephen Bardo Tom Hammonds

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