- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here’s a look back at Illinois college sports in 2011.
1. The fall of Jereme Richmond: Richmond, a McDonald’s All-American, was considered Illinois coach Bruce Weber’s greatest recruiting get. He was expected to arrive and elevate the Illini to national status again. But nothing went as expected. Following a disappointing up-and-down freshman season, which ended with him being suspended for the NCAA tournament, Richmond decided to leave Illinois and enter the NBA draft. Richmond went undrafted. His life took an even worse turn in August when he was arrested on charges of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, battery, disorderly conduct, possession of a firearm and assault after he allegedly confronted his girlfriend’s father. Just recently, he was placed on home detention.
2. Zook’s era ends, Beckman’s begins: Illinois coach Ron Zook was fired on Nov. 27 after seven seasons. Zook looked as if he was going to save his job when the Illini got off to a 6-0 start to the season, but they suffered an epic collapse, losing their final six regular-season games. Illinois first-year athletic director Mike Thomas named former Toledo coach Tim Beckman the new football coach on Dec. 9. Beckman will now to bring stability to a program that has been inconsistent.
3. Northwestern lax champions again: The Northwestern women’s lacrosse team won its sixth national championship in seven years when the Wildcats defeated Maryland 8-7 on May 29. Tournament MVP Shannon Smith had four goals in the game and 18 goals in four tournament games.
4. Northwestern football wins at Nebraska: Northwestern pulled off one of the season’s biggest surprises when the Wildcats defeated No. 10 Nebraska 28-25 on the road on Nov 5. Kain Colter threw for 115 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 57 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 57 yards. Colter became the first player to accumulate 100 passing yards, 50 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in one game since ESPN began keeping such statistics in 2000.
5. Illinois dances again: The Illinois men’s basketball team was the lone team from the state to reach the NCAA tournament again in 2011. Led by a group of seniors, including team leader Demetri McCamey, the Illini defeated UNLV in round of 64 and lost to Kansas in the following round. Illinois finished 20-14 for the season.
6. Juice’s farewell: Michael “Juice” Thompson closed out his Northwestern men’s basketball career in 2011. He finished ranked first in career assists (528), minutes played (4,633) and games played and started (129), second in 3-pointers made (276), third in points (1,689) and fifth in steals (159). Northwestern reached a school-record three consecutive NIT tournaments with Thompson running the point.
7. Illinois rallies to defeat ‘Cats: In football, Illinois fought back from a 28-10 second-half deficit to defeat Northwestern 38-35 in Champaign on Oct. 1. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase scored on a 1-yard run with 13 seconds left to pull off the comeback win. Scheelhaase threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns and rushed one touchdown.
8. Big East Rookie of the Year: The DePaul men’s basketball team hasn’t had much to celebrate in the Big East in recent years, but freshman Cleveland Melvin brought some optimism back to Lincoln Park in 2011. Melvin averaged 14.3 points and 5.0 rebounds and was named the Big East Rookie of the Year on March 8, joining the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson.
9. Illinois baseball wins Big Ten: The Illinois baseball team overcame a 4-6 Big Ten record to win 11 of its last 14 games and captured its first conference title since 2005. Matt Dittman hit a walk-off home run to defeat Indiana to win the regular-season title. In the Big Ten tournament, Illinois defeated Ohio State 5-4 by scoring four runs in the ninth inning and later won the tournament title with two wins over Michigan State. Illinois went 2-2 in the NCAA tournament.
10. Illinois falls short in NCAA championship: The Illini women’s volleyball team lost to UCLA 25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-16 in the NCAA championship on Dec. 17. Illinois went 32-5 for the season.
11. Northern rallies to win MAC football title: Northern Illinois Huskies fought back from a 20-0 deficit to defeat Ohio Bobcats 23-20 in the MAC championship on Dec. 2. It was the Huskies first MAC championship since 1983. Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish threw two of his three touchdowns passes in the fourth quarter.