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Illini capture Big 10 championship

Thrilling 64-63 win at Ohio State gives Illinois the crown     Send a link to a friend

By Jeff Mayfield

[MARCH 8, 2004]  Payne has done it again. Since his arrival into Illini Nation, all Illinois has been doing is winning Big 10 titles. Just a few months after he was born, Self and the boys won the league and hung the 2001 banner in the rafters. Then in 2002, they hoisted up another. For an encore in 2003, they missed the title by a game but snagged the Big 10 tourney trophy as a memento. Then in miraculous fashion the Illini overcame a miserable 1-2 league start to go 11-1, including a finishing 10-in-a-row streak to claim the title outright.

Payne has loved every minute of it. He even basked in a BCS Sugar Bowl and enjoyed the Cardinals' playoff runs along the way to boot!

But THIS Illini championship is probably one for the ages when you consider how it was done. To win so many road games and to win them all in must-win fashion is something we'll be talking about the rest of our days.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was bemoaning the fact that Illinois would have to finish the season with four out of five on the road. Having made several road trips in my past and knowing how hard it is to win in some of those venues, I was willing to mail in a 3-2 record and settle for second place. Aren't you glad that the games aren't played on paper? To win all five, including those four on the road, is just simply a fantastic finish. How do you like Weber now???

Too bad our fans weren't with Payne from the beginning of the season. He liked this team during the EXHIBITION season! He quietly confided in me that Deron Williams had improved his game tons and that Illinois' "bigs" (he's a huge Nick Smith fan) would do enough to get the job done… and he was right.


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Now, will they continue to run the table and win the Big 10 tourney and become national champions? It's hard to imagine a scenario where either of those things would happen. BUT. People have been dissing them and doubting them all year, and I've been one of the worst offenders.

I shoulda listened to Payne.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Lincoln Christian College Angels and to the Lincoln Christian College Preachers, who both finished fourth at the National Christian College Athletic Association national tournaments down in southwest Missouri.

[Click here for news release on the men's team.]

[Click here for box score from the women's fourth-place game.]

Also, congrats to the Lincoln Railers basketball team, who finished another 20-win season!

[Jeff Mayfield]

(Note: Payne is the young son of Jeff and Melinda Mayfield.) 


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