Bob's buzzer beaters | Illini tough enough

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Who didn't suit up for Illinois basketball team Thursday night was irrelevant. Ty Rodgers, Marcus Domask, Coleman Hawkins and pals had it covered.

They combined for 45 points, leading Brad Underwood's team to a 71-68 victory against Michigan State at State Farm Center.

Playing their fourth game without suspended star Terrence Shannon Jr. the Illini produced a riveting win — even without making a basket down the stretch. Free throws did the trick as the Illini moved into a tie for second place in the Big Ten.

It was their fourth straight win against Michigan State, and came on the 45th anniversary of Eddie Johnson's game-winner to upset Magic Johnson and his top-ranked Spartans.

It also was their seventh straight home win.

"Was there any other way to play against Michigan State and Tom Izzo?" UI coach Brad Underwood said on postgame radio. "I thought our defense was great."


Balanced #Illini bounce back

— The News-Gazette (@news_gazette) January 12, 2024


Sunday's Illinois game against Maryland just got bigger. Especially when it comes to next Associated Press Top 25 poll, which will be released Monday.

With most of the Top 10 losing this week, No. 10 Illinois has a chance to move way up.


The game at Michigan next Thursday is of less value. The Wolverines are last in the Big Ten and 6-10 overall. Oh, well at least the football team just won the national title.


So much for Rodgers not being a scoring threat. The guard had a team-best 12 points in the first half, hitting 5 of 6 from the field and both free throws.

"Really proud of Ty Rodgers," Underwood said.


With 11:53 left in the first half, 17 incoming Illinois football players were introduced to the crowd. The players start classes next week. Loudest applause acording to my estimate was for quarterback Trey Petty. Like presumptive starter Luke Altmyer, Petty is from Starkville, Miss.


Illinois students are still away, getting in their final days of break before classes resume Tuesday. Didn't impact the size of the crowd on a chilly Thursday.

Ten minutes before opening tip, the place was packed and the fans were into it. Late night basketball isn't for everybody, but Illinois fans have gotten used to it over the years.


The home folks don't forget. During pregame introductions, they saved their loudest boos for Michigan State center Mady Sissoko. In 2021, the big guy roughed up Illini star Ayo Dosunmu.


These are not your parents' Spartans. Michigan State entered Thursday's game with six losses. To be fair, the schedule has been difficult, with half of the losses against ranked teams. But Michigan State also dropped games against unranked James Madison, Nebraska and Northwestern.


A smattering of Michigan State fans cheered from the upper reaches of the arena, When Domask badly missed a three-pointer early in the game, they shouted "Air ball" like you do ... when you are at home. Taunting like that as a visitor is within the rules but not cool.


I seem to remember asking Illinois footblall coach Bret Bielema at a recent press conference if he planned any changes on his staff. And if mermory serves, the answer was not "Yes." Until it was.

Bielama announced Thursday he is not retaining linebackers coach Andy Buh and defensive backs coach Antonio Fenelus. Buh has been at Illinois since Bielema took over in 2021. Fenelus was at Illinois for only one season.

It was a pleasre to get to know both coaches, who had past experience with Bielema.


If Bielema is intereested, the former coach at Alabama has some free time and knows a thing or two about defense.

My guess is Bielema has the replacements in mind and the new guys will be hired in short order.