- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Illinois coach John Groce said Friday he was happiest for his seniors after all they've been through following the Illini's upset of No. 1 Indiana on Thursday.
"I'm happy for the seniors not only what they battled here in the last week or month, but they've been through a lot of things during their careers," Groce said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "The way those guys stepped up yesterday, the way they came together. I mentioned to my assistant with about three minutes to go, ‘My gosh, we played our tails off.'"
Illinois seniors Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson have endured plenty of ups and downs throughout their careers. In the past two seasons, they've gone 23-3 in non-conference and been ranked as high as No. 10 in the country only to struggle in the Big Ten with a 9-19 mark. With Thursday's win, they improved to 3-7 in the Big Ten this season.
The senior trio had its best collective game together this season. Richardson (23 points), Paul (21 points) and Griffey (14 points) combined for 58 points in the 74-72 win over the Hoosiers. They previously combined for 48 points in their 78-61 win over Butler earlier in the season.
Griffey especially emerged in Thursday's win. He had scored a total of 26 points in the Illini's first nine Big Ten games and had missed his previous 20 3-points prior to Thursday. Against Indiana, he connected on two 3-pointers and scored 14 points.
Griffey's biggest contribution came as he snuck free of defenders as Illinois inbounded the ball with 0.9 seconds and scored the game-winner on a layup as the clock expired.
Illinois students rushed the court, and Groce and his players celebrated along with them.
"It was a crazy one last night, but everyone has to pick themselves up off the mat from a physical and mentally fun, challenging and exciting game," Groce said. "We got two days to get ready for a good Minnesota team. I told those guy to enjoy last night and embrace it. You obviously don't get to many opportunities to play No. 1, let alone beat them, especially a team as good as Indiana."
Illinois still has some work to do to get into the NCAA tournament. They likely need to win four of their remaining eight Big Ten games.
"Our league is ridiculous in a good way," Groce said. "It's so challenging."