Cinderella Illini Rolls By OSU
The last-place team in the Big Ten is one win away from the NCAA tournament.
Eleventh-seeded Illinois continued its remarkable run through the conference tournament Saturday, beating No. 11 Ohio State 79-77 for its third straight victory over a ranked opponent in as many days.
The Illini (14-17) will meet Michigan State for the tournament championship Sunday and a chance to do the unthinkable -- capture the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of 64 with a losing record.
And after improbable victories over Minnesota, Indiana and the second-seeded Buckeyes, why not?
The Illini started Big Ten play 0-7 and didn't win a conference game until late January before finishing 3-13.
Freshman Cory Bradford scored 17 points, hitting six free straight free throws in the final 1:19, as the Illini blew a late 11-point lead and survived a wild finish to beat the Buckeyes (23-8).
Michael Redd scored 32 points, hitting 11 of 18 field goal attempts, to lead Ohio State. But his 11-footer at the buzzer -- right after he came up with an offensive rebound when teammate Scoonie Penn intentionally missed a free throw -- hit the rim and went off.
Bradford's first four free throws gave Illinois a 74-70 lead before Redd scored the first of three layups in the final minute.
Redd was then called for a foul on Robert Archibald, who made the first and missed the second free throw with teammate Sergio McClain getting an offensive rebound and signaling for a timeout as he was falling out of bounds.
Officials conferred momentarily and then awarded the timeout to the Illini with 34.7 seconds remaining. Illinois' Nate Mast then made two free throws before Redd scored again to make it 77-74 with 25 seconds left.
The Buckeyes then stole the ball but Redd's shot was blocked by McClain. Bradford was fouled in the ensuing scramble and his two free throws put the Illini up 79-74 wit19 seconds left.
Redd scored again, slicing the lead to three, and then the Buckeyes fouled McClain, who missed both free throw attempts.
Penn's long jumper was no good but the ball went out of bounds and Ohio State retrained possession with 3.6 seconds. After a timeout, Penn was fouled to keep the Buckeyes from getting off a 3-pointer.
Penn hit the first free throw, and after another timeout, missed the second intentionally. Redd somehow came up with the rebound and his jumper hit one side of the rim and went off, sending Illinois to the finals.
McClain's three-point play with 4:31 left gave Illinois its biggest lead at 68-57, but then the Illinois began to wilt under Ohio State's trapping press.
Neshaun Coleman, who Friday became Ohio State's leader in 3-pointers made, hit another to tie the game at 70 with just under two minutes to go.
Penn added 15 points for Ohio State, which beat Illinois by three in the regular season. Victor Chukwudebe added 13 for Illinois.
GO TO MARCH MAYHEM
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