Wednesday, March 06, 2013
sponsored by 50th anniversary, Assembly Hall!

Do you know where you were on these dates in Illini history?

By Jeff Mayfield

Send a link to a friend

[March 06, 2013]  Saturday, March 2, marked the 50th anniversary of the Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana. To celebrate this milestone, I would like to share my top memories of events that I either covered or witnessed at the Hall. (After the first three, they're just listed in random order -- it was too hard to rank them.)

1. The Illini wallop Wake Forest and spend the rest of the season ranked No. 1
Dec. 1, 2004

Illinois was a team on a mission and came out on fire in a 91-73 pasting of previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Wake Forest. Even with Deron Williams on the bench with two early fouls, nothing could stop the steamrolling Illini! They lost only two games that entire season -- is that even possible?

2. Andy Kaufman at the buzzer
Feb. 4, 1993

Iowa had just scored on one of the most hideous, ugliest plays you have ever seen -- as the ball bounced off Acie Earl, then Deon Thomas' shoulder, then somehow hit the backboard and fell in. The Illini were headed for a sure loss with 1.5 seconds remaining. Not so fast, my friend. T.J. Wheeler did his best Joe Montana imitation and fired a full-court pass to Kaufman right in front of the Illini bench. Andy dribbled, leaned in and lofted the most beautiful shot you've ever seen... and Illinois sent Dr. Tom packing. I took two of Lincoln's all-time greats to that game, Doug Maris and Jason Smith, and all three of us rushed the floor with the Orange Krush after the game. I even got a great piece of memorabilia... Ask me about it...

3. Illini's miraculous comeback stuns Seton Hall
Dec. 9, 2000

Seton Hall came into the Hall and acted like it was their home court. The Pirates ran the Illini right out of their own building and led by 21 points at the intermission. Illinois made a furious comeback and somehow fought all the way back, tied the game and sent it to overtime. Illini sharpshooter Cory Bradford had a streak going where he had converted a 3-point basket in 72 straight games and needed one more to tie the all-time record, but he did not make one in regulation. He did hit the first 3 in overtime and scored eight points that led Illinois to a dramatic 87-79 win and kept his streak alive. Lincoln's Brian Cook had seven points in the contest. It may have been the most exciting game I ever saw in the Hall!

Illinois thumps Michigan State
Feb. 12, 1998

The Illini took it to the No. 13 Spartans 84-63 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. The Krush stormed the court as the pride had been brought back after a drought of a few years.

Griffey, Illini shock No. 1 Hoosiers
Feb. 7, 2013

Unsung Senior Tyler Griffey hit a layup with .9 seconds left to give the Illini an improbable 74-72 victory over the No. 1-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. It was the third time the Illini had defeated a No. 1-ranked team at home, having previously disposed of Wake Forest in 2004 and Michigan State in 1979. The Spartans went on to win the national championship over Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores a few weeks later. Taylorville VisionWay sixth-grade players Zach Minix and Payne Mayfield helped lead the cheers from section C-29! It's always a great day to beat Indiana!

Illinois rocks Minnesota on Centennial Celebration Day
Jan. 29, 2005

The Illini could do no wrong in this one, taking care of business early on their way to a convincing 89-66 drubbing of the Golden Gophers. For this game, over 300 former players and coaches were on hand -- an Illini nirvana, if you will. After the game the Illini All-Century Team was announced, and of course it included Lincoln's Brian Cook, whose jersey hangs in the rafters!

Illinois rolls past Wisconsin to claim a share of the 1984 Big Ten title
March 10, 1984

Some said that Lou could not do! But they were wrong, as this edition of the Fighting Illini brought home a Big Ten title on Senior Day! I somehow scrambled into Krush that day and did my part!

Flying Illini dump Hawkeyes
March 8, 1989

The Illini crushed the No. 15-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes 118-94. I missed an important meeting that night and instead took Greg Taylor and Eric Ewald to the game. We wanted to see Kendall Gill's first game back from a broken foot injury. You be the judge? Meeting... or time spent with good friends -- priceless!

Kruger's unheralded, underrated Illini claim Big Ten crown
Feb. 22, 1998

Lon Kruger proved his mastery as a coach by winning the league title with five seniors who were not as talented as some of other Big Ten teams perched at the top. A 79-72 victory over Iowa on Senior Day was followed by an 82-72 victory at Indiana just two days later. Can you have a better week than that?

Cook explodes on Michigan
Jan. 29, 2003

Lincoln's own Brian Cook was off the hook versus the Wolverines on that night. He scored 30 points (just one away from his career high), 26 points in the second half and 19 in the final 9:15 to reverse an 11-point Michigan lead and bring the Illini to victory.

Dee for 3
Jan. 5, 2006

Brown was only 12 of 22 on the night, going 7 of 13 from 3-point land en route to a 34-point performance over Michigan State. All MSU coach Tom Izzo could do was ponder what it might have been like to have Brown in a green and white uniform.

Illini clobber North Carolina
Dec. 3, 2002

Erstwhile BTN reporter Sean Harrington was a star guard back then, and he hit six 3-pointers, and Cook did some damage, too, as the Illini ran the Tar Heels back to Tobacco Road!

Illinois nips Wisconsin on a Marcus Griffin buzzer-beater
Feb. 13, 2001

Former Lincoln College star Marcus Griffin took an inbounds pass and converted a pretty little floater with .8 seconds left to give the Illini a sweet 68-67 victory over Bucky. The game was more like Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots than it was a basketball game, but then that's Big Ten action for ya. Lincoln resident Brian Cook poured in 16 points and pounded out a game-high eight rebounds, when he wasn't getting punched, kicked, grabbed or mauled. It's always nice to send Bucky packing...

[to top of second column]

Illini nip Knight and Hoosiers on Senior Day
March 1, 1987

Steve Alford and company made their annual visit to Chambana, and Ken Norman and the Illini said, "Not today... not on my watch." And Illinois handed IU what at the time was a disturbing 69-67 season-ending loss. In fact, it was the last game that IU lost that year. Somehow, IU got lucky and strung some wins together when the brackets got busted and they ended up finishing on a high note, but not before the Illini had their way with them!

My first game at the Hall
Winter 1975

Wasn't very memorable in some ways, and in others it changed my life to this day. I was traveling with some friends during my days at LCC, and we were going to one of their houses for the weekend to do some laundry and get some food. Someone suggested that we go by the Assembly Hall and catch an Illini game on the way... I was up for that. You'll be stunned and shocked that I have no idea who Illinois played that day, as some guy handed us tickets outside the front door. We walked in at halftime, and the first thing I saw when I walked in was the Chief! What kind of an impact do you think that made on me? He and I were at One with the Universe, and even though I had grown up on UCLA basketball, I knew that I had been given a sign from above that it was OK to add the Illini to the mix. And even if you loyal readers think that I and my story are just too crazy for you to embrace, let me just say that my therapist is awfully glad that I'm a lifelong Illini fan!

IHSA basketball playoffs
March Madness 1976

I should also remember what teams I saw when a couple of friends took me to some IHSA basketball games a few months later. I have no idea who played in those games as I was still too impressed with the Hall to be in my right mind. But I can tell you this... It is an absolute crime that the high school tournament or tournaments are not held in that venue. I will take it a step further. I had only one opportunity to coach on that floor, and it came when Lincoln returned to state playoff action after a 19-year absence. I don't need to tell you that we didn't get to play in the Hall, and I will forever be disappointed about that. I hope to one day help lead a crusade to get that situation rectified!

Standing in line for Illini tickets

The '80s belonged to the Illini, but if you wanted tickets, you had to stand in line when they went on sale or you might not get any. I used to see Jim Cotter, Gary Klockenga, Eugene Miller, and a host and cast of other characters every year camped out in line waiting for Illini tickets to go on sale. We froze our butts off out there... but, it was for a good cause. I sure wish it would have been like modern times when the coaches send hot chocolate and pizza -- we just got hypothermia. But that's another story for another day...

Undefeated season hung in the balance with an escape over Iowa
Jan. 20, 2005

Coach Steve Alford brought the Hawks into the Hall, and I have to tell you that I was not the least bit worried about them. I should've been. Iowa probably played Illinois the toughest of any team that season, at least at home, and it took an extra session, five minutes of overtime, for the good guys to come out on top 73-68; but I was a sweaty mess from head to toe, so I skipped the postgame presser!

McBride lights up Memphis
Dec. 13, 2003

When I was an assistant coach with Coach Alexander at Lincoln High School, he made me scout Lanphier about a dozen times. I think I knew Rich McBride better than he knew himself. But I was still surprised how good McBride looked for Illinois early in his career, and I had big plans for him. On this exciting night in the Hall, McBride torched the nets for six 3-pointers and 22 points, leading the Illini to victory over the John Calipari-coached Tigers. This was a sweet win in my book!

Illinois' Houdini act gets past Illinois State
Jan. 3, 2004

In what was the toughest game I ever had to witness in the Hall, Illinois escaped with an 80-73 victory over the ISU Redbirds. I covered the Redbirds for several seasons, but that's not what made that game so tough. My wife is an ISU grad, but that's not what made that game so tough. What made it tough was that a player I had coached in both junior high and high school, Gregg Alexander, was playing against the beloved. I had to cheer for him, and retrospectively I wouldn't have cared if he/they had won.

The Chief, any game, any year!

Well, those are some of my recollections. I have spent a little bit of time at the Hall over the years, but can I just say that they have been some of the fondest memories of my life. I am usually there with my family and or some friends, and we almost always have a good time going and coming. I saw the majority of these games with either my son, Payne (and my wife, Melinda -- one game a year), or with my friend Judge John Coady of Taylorville, who is one of the best Illini fans I have ever known!

I have also watched many of these games with my good friend Greg Taylor, who also writes for our beloved LDN. If there is a more knowledgeable Illini fan or reporter out there than Greg, I don't know who it is. Go to a game with him and he will tell you what play the Illini will run next, or what defense Michigan will be in when they come out of a timeout. His basketball IQ is off the charts, and it is fun for me to try to have a battle of wits with him -- I usually lose! But, I love his passion for Illinois sports, and it is something that we have shared.

I have also watched Illini games with Craig and Eric Zastrow, Lynn Laughlin, Brad Neal, Tom Seggelke, Ed Bacon, Doug Maris, Jason Smith, Gary McNeely, Jim Wood, Jake Jarrett, Gary Klockenga, Eric Ewald, Joyce Bechtel, Leroy Riley, Jack Hilliard, and a host of other family members and friends. My life is richer for having spent these glorious times in the Hall. It's not near as impacting as my faith, but you do have to have a lot of faith to be a regular Hall customer. On that count, I'm guilty!

Happy 50th anniversary, Assembly Hall... Here's to 50 more!


Respond to the writer at

< Top Stories index

< Archived columns

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching and Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law and Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health and Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor