Amber Moore scored 22 of her 24 points in the second half to lead the Illini back from a 20-point deficit.
Dec. 9, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois staged one of the biggest comebacks in school history Monday night at State Farm Center, coming back from a 20-point deficit with 8:45 remaining in the game to beat Seton Hall 71-70 and snap a three-game losing streak. Nia Oden, a 5-foot-10 junior guard/forward who was pressed into service when Jacqui Grant fouled out with 4:20 left, grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled with 5.0 seconds on the clock. She made 1-of-2 free throws to push Illinois ahead by a point and Seton Hall's Ka-Deidre Simmons' running three-pointer banged off the backboard and the front of the rim before bouncing away, giving the Illini (6-5) the heart-pounding victory and marking their seventh-straight home win.
"I would definitely say this is the best basketball moment that I have had," Oden said. "It was just great to be out there and fight with my teammates, and know that they had my back just as much as I had theirs. It was definitely the top. Number one for sure."
While Oden didn't fill up the stat sheet, she made impact plays late in the game. With 58 seconds on the clock, she blocked the shot of Bra'Shey Ali on a possession that ended with a Seton Hall (7-2) turnover and led to Moore's game-tying three-pointer. Then with 31 seconds remaining, Oden corralled a loose ball that Ivory Crawford had tipped away and passed ahead to a streaking Crawford for a layup that put the Illini up 70-68. In the waning seconds, Oden cleaned the glass on Crawford's miss before being fouled and making her first free-throw attempt of the night with five seconds on the clock.
Amber Moore was a big reason Illinois was even in striking distance and she also ended up capping the comeback. After struggling through a first half in which she shot 1-of-10 from the field, the senior from Detroit, Mich., stroked a three-pointer just 1:19 into the second half and never looked back. She scored Illinois' first seven points of the half then later hit a jumper and two free throws as part of Illinois' 10-0 run that cut the 20-point lead in half. She hit two more free throws and a three-pointer to bring the Illini within 68-61 with 2:18 left, then made the tying trey with 43 seconds on the clock.
Moore finished with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds, her second double-double of the year and the third of her career. She scored 22 second-half points and made 7-of-11 shots in the second half, including 4-of-7 from three-point range and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. Crawford added 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals in 38 minutes, and Sarah Hartwell scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds.
The Illini had 11 steals in the second half and forced 15 Pirate turnovers in the period, turning them into 15 points. Illinois shot 48.5 percent from the field in the second half, including 5-of-10 from three-point range. The Orange and Blue held Seton Hall without a field goal for 4:57 late in the period, putting together a 12-1 run over that span, and finished the game on a 28-7 run in the final 8:45.
"I don't think I `ve ever been part of a game that felt like a nightmare for so long and then turned into a dream at the end," head coach Matt Bollant said. "I'm just proud of our players. They showed some resiliency. After a good start, it seemed like for a long time, nothing went right. Still down 12 with 3:10 left and to come back and win the game is pretty amazing. I kept saying `This can change, things can change here. You can't control what's gone on in the past, let's control what's next.' And finally, we started to do that. I think we were down 63-43 and we started to change.
"I'm so happy for Nia. What a great kid. Sometimes in life, good things happen to good kids who do the right things. She comes every day with energy and passion, and is as good of a teammate as I've ever coached. I'm so happy for something good to happen to her because she's an amazing kid and she certainly deserves it. And I thought Amber was really special in the second half. We had a tough first half and she was 1-for-10, then she stepped up and went 7-for-11 in the second half, including every big shot down the stretch. We need her to make big shots and she did that tonight."
In the first half, he Illini scored the game's first six points and led 8-2 at the 16:54 mark. Seton Hall tied the game at 11 but the Illini pulled back in front, 17-13 with 9:56 remaining. The Pirates scored the next five points to take their first lead at 18-17 and Illinois responded with a 5-0 spurt of its own to go up 22-18 with 5:14 left in the half.
Seton Hall took over from there as the Illini missed five straight shots and committed four turnovers to go scoreless for over three minutes, with the Pirates taking a 36-25 lead at halftime. Grant led the Illini with nine points in 15 minutes in the first half and Moore gathered in seven rebounds.
The Illini now have 11 days without a game while they tend to final exams, which begin on Friday. Illinois' next game is on Saturday, Dec. 21, when it hosts UT Martin at 2 p.m. at State Farm Center.