Back in Central Illinois, it was past 2 a.m., Saturday and the Illini basketball team needed a miracle four time zones from home.
The Illini trailed the University of Hawaii 77-75 in overtime and somehow needed to rush the ball the length of the floor and either score or lose. They had 7.5 seconds to do it.
Sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams ran the ball up the court and penetrated into the lane. Hawaii’s defense converged on him, just as coach John Groce had told Abrams they would.
Brandon Paul, who already had 25 points and five 3-pointers, went to one corner. D.J. Richardson, who had scored all of his 13 points after halftime, went to the other.
Abrams took the ball under the basket, and amid the Hawaii defense he bounced a pass to Richardson, who let fly in front of the Illini bench. The high-arcing shot swished through the net and as Richardson hit the seat of his pants and skidded out of bounds, one referee signaled that the shot was taken too late.
But after the officials reviewed the shot on a video monitor, the basket counted and Illinois had a 78-77 victory that capped a comeback from a 16-point deficit.
It was the biggest shot in his career for the senior Richardson, who finished with 16 points, and it was just the kind of adversity-defying victory Groce had hoped his first Illini team was capable of.
“The kids showed great resolve,” Groce said. “They kept swinging and swinging and swinging. As Tracy just said in the locker room, we didn’t come out ready. They popped us in the mouth first and we responded.
“But you have to set the rules when you’re on the road and we got away with one tonight.
“Give our guys credit, though, because we kept making plays.”
Illinois fell behind early, 19-7, and trailed by as many as 16 points. Hawaii’s halftime lead was 41-28.
But with Abrams (22 points), Paul and Richardson doing the bulk of the scoring, Illinois battled back.
Now 3-0, the Illini remain in Hawaii but head to a different island, preparing to meet Southern California on Monday in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. That game tips at 11 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.