Illini head basketball coach inked through 2019
Jon Ekey hit a 3-pointer in the final second to lift Illinois to a 66-63 victory
Joseph Bertrand scored 20 points and Rayvonte Rice added 13 and pulled down nine rebounds for the Illini
With Braggin' Rights in the books and back with the Illini, a look back at the clutch play of Tracy Abrams and how former Illini celebrated the victory.
Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams score 16 points in loss.
Illinois men's basketball at Boston University in the NIT First Round, March 19, 2014. (Elan Kawesch/Illinois Athletics)
Illinois vs. Michigan - Big Ten Tournament
Illinois vs. Indiana - Big Ten Tournament
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. No. 12/12 Michigan Wolverines at State Farm Center on March 4, 2014.
Illinois at Michigan State - March 1, 2014
John Groce enters his third season in charge of the Fighting Illini program in 2014-15. He has led the Illini to consecutive 20-win seasons and postseason appearances in his first two years in Champaign, owning a combined record of 43-28.
Groce guided one the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the nation last season to 20 wins and a No. 2 seed in the NIT, as the Illini narrowly missed a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Entering the year with nine newcomers and returning just three rotation players, Groce emphasized defense to his young squad and it delivered, finishing the season ranked 11th nationally in defensive efficiency.
Illinois won 13 of its first 15 games, highlighted by thrilling wins at UNLV, in the Braggin' Rights game over No. 23 Missouri and against Indiana in overtime on New Year's Eve. The Illini then played some of their best basketball late in the season, a staple of Groce's teams throughout his coaching career. Illinois won four of its last five regular season games, with three of those victories coming on the road at Minnesota, at No. 18 Michigan State and at No. 24 Iowa. The Illini added wins over Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and at Boston U. in the first round of the NIT to finish the season with six victories over its final nine contests, with both postseason losses coming by just one point apiece.
Groce directed the Illinois program to a number of achievements during his first year - including a 23-win campaign that marked a six-win improvement from the UI's previous season - culminating in an NCAA Tournament appearance and subsequent victory to advance to the Round of 32.
Illinois won its first 12 games in 2012-13, equaling the sixth-best start in school history and matching the best start ever for a first-year UI coach. Included in that stretch was a dominating performance in Hawaii as the Illini captured the school's first-ever EA SPORTS Maui Invitational championship. Illinois also recorded arguably the nation's most impressive victory during non-conference play, winning at No. 10 Gonzaga by double digits. The Illini spent eight weeks ranked in the Top 25, reaching as high as No. 10. Illinois recorded two more top-10 wins during conference play, beginning with a 19-point defeat of No. 8 Ohio State.
Illinois then garnered national headlines with a thrilling last-second victory over No. 1 Indiana. The Illini won on a buzzer-beating layup by Tyler Griffey, leading to a court-storming celebration in Champaign as Illinois defeated a No. 1-ranked opponent for just the third time in school history. The Fighting Illini went on to earn a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament and defeated No. 10-seeded Colorado in the Round of 64 as Groce improved his record in the opening round of the tournament to 9-0 during his coaching career and 3-0 as a head coach.
Groce was named the 17th Fighting Illini men's basketball coach on March 29, 2012. He arrived at Illinois after four seasons as head coach at Ohio University, where he led the Bobcats to an 85-56 overall record as well as Mid-American Conference Tournament titles and NCAA Tournament appearances in 2010 and 2012.
Ohio was the story of the 2012 Tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed with victories over No. 4 seed Michigan followed by No. 12 seed South Florida. The Bobcats finished just short of the Elite Eight, falling to top-seed North Carolina in overtime in the regional semifinal. It marked just the second time in Ohio's school history and first since 1964 that the Bobcats won multiple games in the NCAA Tournament. Ohio finished the 2012 season with a school-record 29 wins and was known for its pressure defense, ranking second nationally in turnover percentage and third in steals percentage.
Ohio also made noise in the 2010 postseason. Playing in the school's first NCAA Tournament game in five seasons, the Bobcats received a No. 14 seed and defeated No. 3 seed Georgetown. With the 2010 and 2012 NCAA performances, Ohio became just the sixth school ever to win Tournament games as both a 13 and 14 seed.
The 42-year-old Groce has a total of 21 years in the coaching profession and has been part of teams that have made 18 postseason appearances. His record in 15 years as an assistant was an impressive 349-156. When added to his six-year head coaching record of 128-84, it gives Groce a combined record of 477-240 over his 21 seasons.
Groce earned his first head-coaching job at Ohio following four seasons on Thad Matta's staff at Ohio State from 2005-08, the first two as assistant coach and last two as associate head coach. During Groce's time in Columbus the Buckeyes amassed a record of 105-35, advanced to the NCAA Championship game in 2007 and second round in 2006, claimed back-to-back outright Big Ten Championships in 2006 and 2007 and won the NIT in 2008. Groce played a key role in recruiting many of the top players at Ohio State and was named Rivals.com's 2006 National Recruiter of the Year.
In all, Groce spent eight years as an assistant under Matta. Prior to his time at Ohio State, Groce served three years on Matta's staff at Xavier from 2002-04 and one season at Butler in 2000-01. The Musketeers went 78-23 and made three straight NCAA appearances, advancing to the second round in 2002 and 2003 and the Elite Eight in 2004. Xavier also won consecutive Atlantic 10 titles in 2002 and 2003. Butler, meanwhile, went 24-8 and won a conference crown in 2001 while also advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Groce entered the Division I coaching ranks as a member of Herb Sendek's staff at North Carolina State from 1997-2000. The Wolfpack went 73-58 overall and advanced to the NIT in each of the four seasons Groce was in Raleigh, including a trip to the semifinals in 2000.
Groce got his start in coaching as an assistant at his alma mater, Taylor University, an NAIA school in Upland, Ind. Groce spent three years on Paul Patterson's staff from 1994-96, helping lead the Trojans to a 69-32 record and pair of trips to the NAIA national tournament. Groce played for Patterson for three years from 1991-93 before transitioning to a student assistant role as a senior. Taylor compiled a 90-16 record and made three trips to the NAIA Tournament during Groce's playing career, including a 1991 NAIA Final Four appearance during his freshman season.
Groce earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Taylor in 1994. John and his wife, Allison, have two sons, Conner and Camden.
THE GROCE FILE
Born: Sept. 7, 1971, in Muncie, Ind.
Groce Coaching Experience
Groce Year-By-Year Coaching Record
Updated following the 2013-14 season