Ted Valentine T’d up Bob Knight not once, not twice but three times.
The Associated Press
From the Feb. 25, 1998 edition of The News-Gazette:
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — What rabid Indiana fans regard as a travesty is sweet music to Illinoisans.
In the most foul-mouthed and ugly atmosphere any Illini quintet ever has been subjected to, they held the Hoosiers to eight field goals in the first 27 minutes and capped an amazing Big Ten season with an 82-72 triumph Tuesday night.
At 13-3, still alive for a share of the Big Ten basketball championship — if Purdue wins Sunday at Michigan State — Lon Kruger and his athletes kept their cool amid some of the most explosive and embarrassing activity ever witnessed at a conference game.
Three bench technicals (it easily could have been 10) were just part of it as irate Indiana fans tossed coins, hurled racial epithets at ref Ted Valentine and booed themselves hoarse.
Shocked by Sunday’s 112-64 loss at Michigan, these fanatics were determined to lift their favorites on Senior Night. But the Hoosiers smacked into a three-point underdog that excels in that role and would not break.
“I don’t know how I could be prouder or happier,” Kruger said. “We started out a little jittery, but our guys hung together. They came over here expecting to win, and they took care of business. We were starting to get into foul trouble but not to the point where it damaged us.
“However it (the championship) turns out, we can be proud of what we have done. We can cherish it for a lifetime.”
Consider what this Fighting Illini team has accomplished:
— Five seniors started every game except one in a 21-8 season, growing stronger while several of their rivals were set back by injuries, defections and underachievement.
— These Illini broke the Big Ten record for togetherness and complementary play, not to mention a remarkably deep relationship with a head coach who demonstrates that you don’t have to browbeat athletes to get the most out of them.
— With the NCAA committee using the last 10 games as a critical portion of the selection process, the UI finished on a 9-1 roll before the first Big Ten tournament.
— The UI was outrebounded for the 16th time in the last 20 games, but it didn’t matter.
— Illinois posted a 14-1 record at home, handed Penn State its only home loss so far, started Iowa on its tailspin out of the rankings and swept Indiana for the first time since 1990.
— In 16 Big Ten games, ever-ready Illinois led after 10 minutes 15 times and tied Purdue at 17-17 in the 16th.
— In the last 45 years, Illinois twice posted six Big Ten road victories, this season and in an 18-game schedule in 1984.
— Continuing a decade of solid overtime play, the Illini broke their losing spell at Wisconsin with their 13th triumph in the last 16 OT contests.
— Increasing their offensive production in late season, jump-shooters Kevin Turner and Jerry Hester combined to average nearly 40 points a game in the seven February contests.
— Four misses Tuesday cost Matt Heldman the Big Ten free throw percentage title, but he was a tower of strength at the line in a series of hard-fought triumphs. He finished 54 for 62 on free throws in the Big Ten.
It boiled down again to the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. And the Illini never played with more determination than in the second half, shooting 56.5 percent and holding the Hoosiers without a field goal in the first seven minutes after the break.
“We began to click in the second half,” Kruger said. “Indiana tried to pressure us, and we were able to penetrate and kick out for good shots. We got in a good flow.”
How did they deal with the raucous interruptions, and the lengthy two-technical episode with 9:37 left?
“We were huddling,” Kruger said. “We didn’t really see everything that was happening. And in each case, we came out of those situations to make nice runs.”
The most important spurt came after halftime when the Illini quieted the crowd in building a 50-33 lead. It was 54-46 when Heldman went to the line on the double-technical, and the Illini shot out again, 66-51. Then Hester, cashing a trey and a dunk, applied the hammer as he silenced the crowd for the final time.