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Bob's buzzer beaters | 'They ran into a buzzsaw'

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A phrase you will never read again about Brad Underwood's Illinois basketball team: "Hasn't advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2005."

The new year going forward is 2024.

Perhaps sick of hearing about the drought, the current team took care of it in a big way Saturday night at Omaha's CHI Health Center.

No. 3 seed Illinois built a 50-26 halftime lead against No 11-seed Duquesne and cruised to an 89-63 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournaement.

There has never been a more stress-free game for Illinois in the NCAA tournament.

Next up, a long flight East to Boston for a Thursday night game against Iowa State (more on the Cyclones later).

It is a much longer trip than the one in 20025, when Illinois zipped up to Allstate Arena in Rosemont. Ask Arizona what happened there. Or better yet, ask Deron Williams.

"They ran into a buzzsaw," Brad Underwood said on postgame radio.

HOT OFF THE PRESS#Illini headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 pic.twitter.com/r3sSo6uTH3

— The News-Gazette (@news_gazette) March 24, 2024

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Always a good sign for Illinois when three players hit double figures in the opening half. On Saturday, Terrence Shannon Jr. had 14 at the break, Marcus Domask scored 13 and Coleman Hawkins added 11. The team hit a scary-good 67 percent from the field.

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Shannon continued an impressive March run that includes being named Big Ten tournament MVP and a 26-point effort in the NCAA opener.

He finished with 30 points. The Dukes couldn't slow him down. Join the club.

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Southern Illinois transfer Domask, fresh off his first triple-double at Illinois on Thursday, finished with 22 points. He is a dynamic "Robin" to Shannon's "Batman." Sticking with the movie theme, it will be fun to watch Domask take his shot at the NBA next season. Like "Bryan Mills" in "Taken," he has a "particular set of skills."

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Illinois scored the most points before intermission against Duquesne since Cleveland State hit 41 in the opener. The consensus was the Dukes needed a low-scoring game to have any kind of chance to hang.

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Illinois super sub Dain Dainja hit his first four shots from the field Saturday. That gave him 19 makes in a row, tying former star Derek Harper's school record. Harper did it in 1983.

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After sending fans to truTV for the Illinois opener on Thursday against Morehead State, the NCAA scheduler put the Illini on more-familiar TNT for the second round.

Analyst Avery Johnson can talk Xs and Os with the best of them. He liked Illinois' hot start. So did analyst Debbie Antonelli.

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For the first time this season, I sat near the court for the games in Omaha. Wow, is Underwood active during the action. And vocal. Seemed to be more encouraging toward his team than complaing to the officials. Maybe some of both.

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Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman sat in the front row of the stands, right behind the bench Saturday night with his wife Hope and other Illini fans. Chancellor Robert Jones was also in the crowd.

While not the numbers of nearby Iowa State, there was a large contingent of Illinois rooters.

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The Illinois travel party planned to spend the night in Omaha after the late tip. The team will return home on Sunday.Thenm a quick turnaround for a Thursday game in Bston. Hectic to be sure, but beats the alternative.

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From what I hear, the folks from Illinois enjoyed their extended time in the Big O. A suggestion to Underwood: schedule a home and home series with the main tenant at CHI Health Center, Creighton. The team routinely finishes in the Top 10 nationally in attendance and would certainly enjoy a match with another Big Ten school. Creighton has played Nebraska annually since 1977.

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It is 170 miles from Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State, to CHI Health Center in Omaha. No surprise, the loyal Cyclones fans made the trip in droves this week.

It is going to be more of a hike for regional semifinal. The drive from Ames to Boston is 1,326 miles. Fortunately for the Iowa State rooters, there are things called jets that make the trip a lot quicker.

The drive is shorter from Champaign-Urbana to Boston. ONLY 1,071 miles. I love to drive but that is too far.

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Iowa State was sluggish in the first game Saturday night, not scoring its first point against Washington State until five minutes in. The score was 27-27 at the break and the Iowa State fans were antsy.

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Best player for the Cyclones on Saturday? Easy, guard Tamin Lipsey. He was Ayo Dusunmu-like, adding a little bit of everything: 15 points, five rebounds and four assists. He is beloved in Ames, where he played for Ames High. Same track as Fred Hoiberg many years ago. The high school's nickname is the Little Cyclones.

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The Iowa State fans who stuck around for the second game had a clear rooting interest: Duquesne. No offense to Illinois. Teams that advance always want to play the lesser seed and the Dukes are an 11 as opposed to the No. 3 Illini.

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Tony Petitti's favorite conference entered the second round of the tournament with a 4-2 record. Nebraska and Wisconsin were dominated Friday by Texas A&M and James Madison on Friday night, the first two losses for the Big Ten.

Illinois was the second of two Big Ten teams playing Saturday, following Michigan State's matchup against No. 1 seed North Carolina. The Tar Heels rolled, dropping the Big Ten to 4-3. Until Illinois bumped it back above .500.

There are two more games for the Big Ten on Sunday and I expect the league will go 1-1. Purdue should dispatch Utah State in Indianapolis. Northwestern is the longest of long shots against No. 1 East seed and defendingnational champion UConn.