The last time the Illini defeated a top 10 team on the road was Michigan back in 1989, 19 long years ago. It was Illinois' second straight overtime victory over the Boilermakers, having defeated Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. More than anything, it is a road game in the rugged Big 10, which gives Illinois an advantage during the conference season.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber was bubbling over with excitement about how well his team played in a hostile environment.
"It was a heck of a win, a gutsy win. We kept fighting. I thought we had a good start, they kept coming back on us. We talked a lot about mental toughness, determination, not backing down."
Last year, Illinois might have folded. They lost multiple leads down the stretch, but they learned through that painful process. Now, that experience is giving them an edge.
"They're more mature than in the past. Last year, we lost a lot of close games. All those close games have really helped us. We don't lose our poise or panic. Keep your poise, make plays, and good things will happen."
Illinois got off to a 6-1 lead to begin the game, but Purdue responded with 9 straight points. Back came Illinois with 10 straight of their own, and the battle was enjoined. The Illini held the lead until Purdue's Robbie Hummel scored to give his team a 51-50 edge with a little over 3 minutes to play. But Illinois responded again and again. Weber likened the game to a boxing match.
"We got a little bit of separation on them, but we knew they weren't gonna quit. We talked about a boxing match. When they hit you with a punch, you've got to get back up and make the next counterpunch. That's how you win on the road. It was a gutsy effort by a lot of guys."
"Coach drew up a pick-and-roll during the timeout. He told me to screen my man and roll to the basket. That's what I did, and Trent found me for an open layup."
Weber elaborated on why the play worked on more than one occasion.
"One good thing, when they went small we could go small and spread them out. If they hedged the ball screen, Mike Davis could drop down. They were all worried about our shooters, and he got the easy hoops."
Davis went from hero to possible goat in a matter of seconds as he fouled Purdue center JaJuan Johnson in the act of shooting with 1.9 seconds remaining. Fortunately, Johnson missed the second free throw to send the game to overtime.
Purdue took a quick 4 point lead in overtime, but Illinois wouldn't be denied. Calvin Brock hit a 17 footer, Davis blocked two straight Hummel shots, Alex Legion popped a 19 foot jumper, Chester Frazier hit Brock with an alley oop layup, Davis hit a baseline jumper and Legion dropped a free throw after Demetri McCamey missed three straight to give Illinois a 65-60 lead.
Purdue again rallied, but their decision to foul McCamey backfired as he hit four straight free throws down the stretch. Meacham made the final two points on free throws to secure the 71-67 victory. As Weber said afterward, it was a total team effort.
"It was just great balance. Trent with 11 plus 6 assists and no turnovers, Mike Davis gets 12 and 6 (rebounds), Demetri didn't play well but came in and did some things down the stretch. Mike Tisdale gets 18 on the road, Alex gets 12, and Calvin made a couple big plays in overtime.
"And then Chester 41 minutes, 2 points on one basket where he faded away at the shot clock, but then he had 7 rebounds, 7 assists and one turnover which wasn't really his fault.
"We made a decision to put Chester on Hummel. He held him to zero. He got a few down the stretch, but that was when Chester wasn't on him because of matchup problems."
Purdue's Chris Kramer is their inspirational leader, but he was still hobbled by a foot sprain incurred recently and had to sit permanently near the end of regulation. His absence hurt the Boilermakers, but so did their poor shooting. E'Twaun Moore led the way with 17 points, Johnson tallied 16, and freshman Lewis Jackson totaled 11 including a three at the final buzzer.
Mike Davis played with greater intensity than last Sunday, and he earned the opportunity to meet the media afterward.
"I think this was the loudest crowd I've ever heard. But we're just really happy. It was a great win for us. It puts the place on the map now."
Coach Weber wants to celebrate, but he knows Michigan is awaiting the visiting Illini Sunday. There is little time to enjoy the win.
"I don't know how many teams are gonna win in here. We got one, and we can enjoy it tonight and tomorrow a little bit, but then we've got to think about Michigan.
"Now we've got to take advantage as we keep moving forward. We've got 'til Sunday to figure out how to beat Coach Beilein's zone. It won't be easy, and they're a top 25 team. If we can get that one, we will have a week off before the Indiana game."