UPDATED: Warriors lose heartbreaker to Illini at OT buzzer
The Hawai’i basketball team hit one buzzer-beater, but Illinois countered with one of its own. Unfortunately for the Warriors, the Fighting Illini’s buzzer-beater was worth more.
D.J. Richardson drained a 3-pointer from the corner at the final buzzer of overtime to give Illinois a thrilling 78-77 victory over the Warriors on Friday night. Moments earlier, Vander Joaquim hit a tough 15-foot jumper from the wing at the final buzzer of regulation to force the overtime.
A “Wig Night” crowd of 7,550 at the Stan Sheriff Center was in high-decibel form throughout the game, but they left in stunned silence after a video replay of the Illini’s final shot was reviewed and ruled good by the game officials.
“In my short time here, that’s as good an effort from a team that I’ve seen for an entire game,” said Hawai’i head coach Gib Arnold, who is in his third season. “I’m extremely proud of the effort, and I got nothing but good things to say about how hard they played and how hard they tried. Usually that’s all you control is effort. Winning sometimes is a matter of 0.2 seconds.”
Hawai’i dropped to 3-1, and is now 0-7 all-time against Illinois. The Illini improved to 3-0.
The Warriors led by as many as 16 points early in the second half, and by as many as five in overtime, but the Illini kept coming back with clutch 3-point shooting. “It was painful” Joaquim said. “The mistakes that we made really hurt us in the end.”
Joaquim led the Warriors with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Brandon Spearman, who was raised in Chicago and watched Illinois games as a child, contributed 20 points and nine rebounds while playing 44 minutes.
“It was always a dream to play Illinois and beat them,” Spearman said. “It’s alright, sometimes dreams don’t come true.”
Christian Standhardinger added 12 points, although he shot 4 of 15 from the field. Hauns Brereton contributed 10 points and nine rebounds, although he shot 3 of 11 from the field.
The Warriors had possession of the ball and a 76-75 lead in the closing seconds when point guard Jace Tavita was fouled with 7.5 seconds remaining. He missed the first free throw but made the second to give Hawai’i a 77-75 advantage. On Illinois’ final possession, point guard Tracy Abrams drove toward the baseline, drawing the Hawai’i defense in, and then fired a pass to an open Richardson in the corner for the game-winning shot.
“It was good D, it was better O,” Arnold said. “I thought the kid (Abrams) made a nice play. I thought we had him pinned along the baseline below the basket.”
The heartbreaking loss overshadowed heart-felt performances by Spearman and Joaquim. Spearman came up with numerous clutch plays against a team that features many of his basketball acquaintances from Illinois. His put-back dunk gave the Warriors a seemingly solid 54-47 lead with 9:50 remaining.
“This one was special to him,” Arnold said of Spearman’s performance. “I thought he played like a warrior and I’m glad he’s with us and I bet they probably want him with them. He was the best player on the floor at times, I thought.”
When the Illini rallied late in the game, Joaquim was Hawai’i’s response. On the final play of regulation, he took an inbounds pass from Jace Tavita and dribbled to the wing and drained the game-tying shot with a defender in his face.
“It was supposed to go for anybody” he said. “I was open and Jace got me the ball and I just made a play.”
The Warriors led by as many as 15 points in the first half and eventually took a 41-28 lead at intermission. Spearman hit a 3-pointer to open the second half and push the lead to 44-28, but the Illini fought back and eventually caught the Warriors.
The Illini took a 61-60 lead on a driving layup by Abrams with 2:59 remaining. It was the first time the entire game that Hawai’i had surrendered the lead.
The lead went back-and-forth after that, with Illinois seizing the late momentum on a 3-pointer by Brandon Paul with 1:29 remaining to give the Illini a 66-64 advantage.
The Warriors had the final possession of regulation, and Spearman was fouled but missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw. Standhardinger grabbed the rebound and his putback attempt was blocked out of bounds. On the ensuing inbounds play, Joaquim took the inbounds pass from Tavita and hit the shot that tied it at 66-all.
“It won’t be the last time we’ll be in a tight game,” Arnold said. “I hope next time we make that one last play to win it. I think this team will. I think this is a team that will just get better.”
The Warriors out-rebounded the Illini, 51-31. However, Illinois stayed in it by hitting 11 of 31 from 3-point range. The Warriors did not help their cause by shooting 17 of 31 (54.8 percent) from the free-throw line.
“We’re a team. Everyody contributes on the team,” Joaquim said. “Everybody played hard, everybody played with their hearts. It was just one stop; one stop to get us the win. That’s basketball, somebody has to win.”
Illinois was led by Brandon Paul’s 25 points, including 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. Abrams added 22 points and Richardson finished with 16. The Illini stopped in Honolulu to play this game before heading to the three-game Maui Invitational next week.
Hawai’i will play another home game on Tuesday, when it hosts North Dakota at 7 p.m. at the Sheriff Center.
(Game photos by Charles Simmons)