Illini crowned Big Ten champion with senior night win over Iowa

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Fifth year seniors Thirty Frazier and Da’Monte Williams met with thousands of Illini fans who stormed the field after securing a share of the regular-season Big Ten title on senior night. With seconds remaining against No. 20 Iowa on Sunday night, Williams fired a free throw to move up two points, then Frazier grabbed the final defensive rebound to secure the 74-72 victory and the first-ever title. Illinois regular season since 2005.

Illinois will head to the Big Ten tournament with a double bye as the No. 1 seed after going 22-8, 15-5.

With help from 10 different players, the Illini came back from a 15-point deficit to the most efficient team in the conference, which had also won nine of its last 10 games.

Kofi Cockburnwho was also honored for Senior Night, led the Iowa defense with 21 points and 14 rebounds, earning his 14th double-double of the season and 43rd of his career. Alphonse Plummer and André Curbelo had 15 and 14 points respectively.

The Senior Night game started with a three-pointer from Da’Monte Willliams, who earned his best game of the season against Penn State. Cockburn also made his presence felt early on, blocking Keegan Murray’s shot then laying up the other end. Tony Perkins scored first for Iowa, followed by a Murray dunk.

Iowa went on a quick 7-0 run as Illinois went more than three minutes scoreless on the field. With the Hawkeyes up 9-6, Alphonse Plummer hit a short jumper, but Murray made a pair of free throws right after. Frazier and Cockburn connected for a lob and a layup before Kris Murray hit a jumper.

Luke Goode and Joe Toussaint then exchanged three points André Curbelo got shrewd with a behind-the-back layup after an Iowa turnover. Curbelo then assisted on a Cockburn dunk and the Illini went up 17-16. But after a pair of free throws from Cockburn, the Illini went cold for over three minutes, putting the Hawkeyes on a 13-0 run.

As Cockburn put the Illini back on the board with a layup, the Hawkeyes continued to dominate, making 10 straight shots. Plummer came out big with a three-pointer and a long jumper – hitting 1.00 career points. However, Iowa still led 43-28 with less than four minutes in the half.

Illinois finally regained momentum when Curbelo hit a three and Illini’s defense forced its first save in eight minutes. Coleman Hawkins made a pair of free throws and then Frazier and Plummer each made layups in the final possessions. Illinois held Iowa scoreless for the final three minutes of halftime and went to a 43-37 collapse.

Williams again started the half off strong, taking a charge before Perkins split a pair of free throws. Cockburn and Filip Rebraca traded dunks. Illinois closed in on Iowa’s lead as Williams hit a three and Cockburn scored a layup as Iowa went scoreless for nearly three minutes.

Illinois took its first lead since the start of the first half after Plummer was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws. The lead was short-lived as the Hawkeyes followed with an 8-0 run to come back 54-47.

Hawkins stopped the run with a layup, then Kris Murray and Plummer each hit three. Cockburn scored a layup between two Iowa marks, then RJ Melendez nailed a three to put Illini fans on their feet. Illini’s defense locked in, forcing some turnovers, but the offense couldn’t capitalize.

Murray and Curbelo traded layups just before the Under-8 timeout as Illinois trailed 63-59. Illini’s attack came back alive after the break; Curbelo made a three-point play on an and-1 layup then Hawkins sank a three. Illinois’ two-point lead was quickly squashed once more as both Murrays shot to go up 67-65.

The Illini found the rhythm as Curbelo took flight in attack. After a Cockburn layup tied him, Curbelo stole and then was fouled, making both free throws. Hawkins hit a floater then Curbelo was fouled and made both free throws again, capping an 8-0 run with minutes remaining.

The run prepared Illinois for its championship moment as the Hawkeyes could never recover.

POST-MATCH NOTES

• Illinois won its 18th Big Ten championship and first since 2005.

• Illinois will be the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Illini and Wisconsin are tied atop the Big Ten standings with 15-5 records and Illinois won the tiebreaker against the Badgers with an 80-67 victory on Feb. 2.

• Illinois finished the regular season with a 22-8 record overall and 15-5 in the Big Ten.

• The Illinois Big Ten’s 15 wins are tied for second most in program history behind only the Big Ten’s 16 wins last year. The Illini also won 15 Big Ten games in 1984 and 2005.

• Illinois is the Big Ten’s winningest team over the past three seasons with a 44-16 league record and 47-16 record including the conference tournament.

• Illinois’ 44 wins in the Big Ten over the past three years is the most three-year winning streak in school history.

• Illinois has won at least 13 Big Ten games in three consecutive seasons for the first time in program history.

• Illinois is 29-6 in its last 35 games against Big Ten opponents.

• Illinois won 22 games, marking the 35th all-time 20-game winning season and the program’s first three-game 20-game winning streak since 2009-11.

BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS

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