Introducing Ten and Now: Illinois Rallies to Beat Seton Hall at the Hall


Writing Illini is proud to introduce a new section of the Web site, Ten and Now, which will go back 10 years and chronicle the amazing 2000-2001 Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team that finished a game short of the Final Four.

I’ve wanted to get this new piece up and going for the last couple of weeks, but with the semester winding down, it’s been tough. I’m now glad to get it rolling and will piggyback and catch up on the games prior to today’s flashback, Illinois’ amazing comeback against Seton Hall, which coincidentally happened 10 years ago today.

While no Illinois basketball teams will compare to the 1989 Flying’ Illini or the 2004-2005 national runner-up, the 2000-2001 squad is one of my favorite Illini teams of all time for several sentimental reasons beyond the team’s incredible talent.

To begin with, I was a freshman on the UI campus that season, and one reason I chose to attend Illinois was because I knew the basketball teams were going to be really good during my four years in Champaign-Urbana, which certainly proved to be the case.

Having grown up in Chicago and watch the Bulls end their dynasty after the sixth and final title in 1998, I turned to college basketball in 1998-1999 and started following an Illinois team that was rebuilding under Lon Kruger with a boatload of freshmen, most notably Cory Bradford, Lucas Johnson, Robert Archibald and Damir Krupalija, whom next to Roger Powell Jr. may be my second favorite Illini of all time. That ’98-99 freshman class would be the first group of Illini that I followed from the beginning to the end of their Illinois careers.

Anyways, by the time those players were juniors and I was a freshman at UI, Illinois was loaded, with seniors Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin and redshirt sophomore Frank Williams of Peoria Manual fame, and sophomores Brian Cook and Sean Harrington also on the squad. Under first-year head coach Bill Self, the 2000-2001 Illini were a legit Final Four and national-title contender, and while the team would fall short of reaching Minneapolis, it would leave me and Illini fans with many memories, including the Seton Hall game.

Here’s what I remember from that crazy Saturday afternoon game at the Hall.

December 9, 2000

Illinois 87, Seton Hall 79, OT

Brief Recap: On the Saturday reading day before finals, #7 Seton Hall (led by a heralded freshman trio of the late Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett and Marcus Toney-El and a very raw Samuel Dalembert) jumped all over the #9 Illini in the first half, taking a 42-25 lead into the break and sending the Illinois team into the locker room with a chorus of boos at the Assembly Hall. After sleepwalking through the first half in front of a national television audience on CBS, Illinois woke up in the second half, fighting its way back to send the game to overtime thanks to the possessed play of Frank Williams, who got reamed out by Self at halftime. The Illini would pull away in overtime as a cold-shooting Bradford hit a couple of big threes to tie an NCAA record for most games with a three-point shot, a record that he would break a week later against Arizona at the United Center. Here’s the box score, which doesn’t do justice to the craziness of this game, as seen in the video at the end of the post.

Some Things I Vividly Remember from This Game

Buying a couple of scalped tickets with a high school friend prior to the game. Surprisingly, I didn’t get season tickets as a freshman. At that time in my life, I used to be a train wreck while watching games. However, since Seton Hall was ranked high in the preseason polls along with the Illini, I circled this game as a must see in person.  I’m glad that I decided to attend this matchup, which would turn out to be the best game that I ever attended at the Assembly Hall. Talk about a well-spent $30.

Eddie Griffin having a nasty reverse dunk off a fast break in the first half. At this time, the freshman Griffin was being hyped as the possible #1 overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, which would turn out to be an absolutely terrible draft. I believe Griffin went seventh that year. Amazingly, Seton Hall would not make the 2001 NCAA Tournament as Tommy Amaker’s team was a talented but divided bunch all season long.

The Orange Krush  wearing white cooking hats in honor of Brian Cook. I don’t know why I remember that. Cook would score 7 points on the night.

Seeing Diana Taurasi and the UCONN Women’s team at the game. The UI women’s team played UCONN the following day at the Assembly Hall, and got rocked. Anyways, Taurasi and the Lady Huskies were sitting in the nosebleeds a section over from my buddy and me. Taurasi was a freshman that year and was frustrating me all game long as she was cheering for the Pirates, which are in the Big East with UCONN.

Frankie Williams playing like a man possessed in the second half. While guilty of turning it on and off often as an Illini, Williams was as good of a clutch shot maker as the Illini have ever had, as evidenced against Seton Hall when he was a man among boys in the second half. Williams finished with 21 points but did not lead the Illini in scoring that day. Actually, his former high school teammate Marcus Griffin (man, I wish he could have played four years at Illinois) led the Illini with 24 points.

Bradford missing a three right before halftime and struggling all day long until getting a toilet-bowl shot to rim down right at the start of overtime. I knew the game was over when Bradford hit the NCAA record-tying three right away in the extra five minutes. Bradford started the game 0-8 from three before hitting both of his threes in OT. He finished with 15 points and matched former Virginia Tech player Wally Lancaster’s record of 73 straight games with a three.

Lucas Johnson playing like a wild man in the second half. Johnson was all over the floor in the second half, with his gritty/WWE game at its finest. Johnson had a tip dunk early in the second half that was a clear goal tend, but the refs missed the call as the momentum was with the Illini.

Seeing Nick Smith at the six-pack McDonald’s no more than 30 minutes after the game. In 2000-2001, Smith was redshirting. I couldn’t believe he was at McDonald’s so shortly after the game. It was a very surreal sight at the time. I’m guessing Smith jetted out of the Assembly Hall as quick as possible following the Seton Hall win.

As promised, here’s the video from the 2000 Seton Hall-UI game.


Until the next Ten and Now, December 16th, when the Illini engaged in what would be the second of three classics against Arizona.