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Articles filed under Illinois Illini

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  • Illini QB O’Toole learned from his mistakes Dec 24, 2014 4:52 PM
    You might think the Nebraska game back in late September is a memory Illinois quarterback Reilly O’Toole would like to forget. The Illini lost 45-14. O’Toole, starting for the injured Wes Lunt, finished with 3 interceptions. But as O’Toole, a former star quarterback at Wheaton Warrenville South, gets ready to lead Illinois (6-6) at the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl on Friday, he says there was a moment in that lopsided loss that made the team’s 3-2 finish — most of it with O’Toole under center — possible. Tied at 7-7 in the first quarter of a game they believed they would have to score a lot to stay in, the Illini had a third-and-goal at the Nebraska 4. O’Toole tried to force the ball to a receiver in the end zone but found Cornhuskers cornerback Daniel Davie instead. The interception swung momentum Nebraska’s way, for good. “I was trying to do too much,” O’Toole said. “We got to the red zone and you can’t turn the ball over down there — be OK with a field goal.” “I hadn’t played a full game in a really long time,” he added, “so I think that helped a lot.” After playing in 10 games his freshman season, O’Toole’s time at Illinois looked promising. Sure, he had well-respected sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase ahead of him on the depth chart. But the mobile O’Toole figured to sub a good bit for Scheelhaase when injuries happened while he waited for a senior season that would be his. It didn’t work out that way. O’Toole played seven times as a sophomore, six as a junior and, this season found himself behind Wes Lunt. Few thought O’Toole would see much playing time behind the transfer from Oklahoma State, a player whose arm has NFL potential. “I think he was just kind of content,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said of O’Toole. “I think there were some confidence issues.” O’Toole came to Illinois with a handful of state player-of-the-year awards from newspapers, fresh off two state championships at WWS. But at a Big Ten program, even a middle-of-the-pack school like Illinois, just about everyone who sees the field was all-this or all-that — accustomed to winning. So O’Toole played and practiced mostly in the shadows. A great teammate and great guy, his coaches and the other Illini say. “He’s just a likable (guy),” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said — just not the guy. But Lunt’s injuries, including a broken leg, opened the door for O’Toole. Like a good relief pitcher, four years of playing regularly off the bench has taught him to always be ready, he said. “You owe it to your teammates,” O’Toole said. “You’re one play away from playing.” And even after Lunt returned late in the season, the team found that O’Toole’s ability to run — something Lunt lacks — kept defenses honest and gave the Illini a spark they’d been missing. O’Toole ran and passed for just enough to get Illinois past Minnesota when the season looked like it was about to implode. Then he led the Illini past Penn State and Northwestern to get to 6 wins and bowl eligibility. The last two were high-pressure games for O’Toole, freshman receiver Mike Dudek said. “(He) knew that if he didn’t win, his career, his season, would be over,” said Dudek, a Neuqua Valley High School grad. Illinois faces Louisiana Tech (8-5) on Friday (11 a.m., ESPN), a team O’Toole has played before. It was in 2012, in the mop-up role he knows too well. He relieved Scheelhaase in a 52-24 loss that started a nine-game losing streak for the Illini. This time he will be the starter, the kind of career finish that a football coach finds hard to resist. “I think he deserves it,” Cubit said. “I think it’s kind of what college football is all about.”

  • Illinois to get $1.6M for Heart of Dallas Bowl Dec 21, 2014 12:55 PM
    The University of Illinois will receive $1.6 million for playing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Friday against Louisiana Tech, bowl spokesman Brant Ringler said. Attendance is estimated to be between 25,000 and 30,000 for the game. So far, Illini fans have bought about 3,000 of the school's allotment of 4,000 tickets.

  • Rice’s 3-pointer gives Illini 62-59 win over Missouri Dec 20, 2014 3:59 PM
    Rayvonte Rice hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the last of his 19 points, giving Illinois a 62-59 victory over Missouri in the annual Braggin’ Rights game on Saturday. Rice also had seven rebounds and three assists and Illinois (9-3) had a tougher time than expected against Missouri (5-6), which is rebuilding under new coach Kim Anderson. Ahmad Starks added 13 points and Malcolm Hil had 10.

  • Illinois cruises past Hampton 73-55 Dec 17, 2014 11:21 PM
    Kendrick Nunn is used to coming off the bench. He wasn’t a starter for two seasons at Chicago’s Simeon High School and wasn’t for most of his first season at Illinois. So when the sophomore guard was in the starting lineup Wednesday against Hampton, he was ready. Nunn scored a season-high 16 points as Illinois cruised over Hampton 73-55.

  • Oregon tops Illini 77-70 Dec 13, 2014 8:49 PM
    Dillon Brooks scored 24 points and Oregon beat Illinois 77-70 on Saturday night. Joseph Young scored 15 points and Dwayne Benjamin added 13 for the Ducks, who were playing their first true road game of the season. Ahmaad Rorie scored 11 and Elgin Cook had 10. Rayvonte Rice scored 29 points for the Illini, who led by as many as 13 and fell to 35-13 all-time at the United Center.

  • Ennis leads No. 7 Villanova over Illinois 73-59 Dec 9, 2014 10:05 PM
    Dylan Ennis scored 18 points to lead No. 7 Villanova past Illinois 73-59 on Tuesday night. Darrun Hilliard and Daniel Ochefu both scored 12 points. Malcolm Hill scored a career-high 20 points for Illinois.

  • Rozner: NCAA needs 12-team football playoff Dec 8, 2014 5:30 AM
    The solution to the latest arguments is a 12-team, College Football Playoff, with the top four teams getting a bye in the first round. That removes the concern that expanding the playoff removes incentive in rivalry games and diminishes the importance of every Saturday.

  • Viliunas assists Illini volleyball to Sweet 16 Dec 7, 2014 2:56 PM
    Illinois volleyball setter Alexis Viliunas (a former cheerleader) has plenty to cheer about this season as the nationally-ranked Illini kick off the postseason.

  • Illini headed to Heart of Dallas Bowl Dec 7, 2014 6:02 PM
    Illinois will face Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26. Illinois beat Penn State and Northwestern to close the season at 6-6. The Illini’s defense forced five turnovers in beating the Wildcats 47-33 on the road. Louisiana Tech (8-5) lost to Marshall 26-23 on Saturday in the Conference USA title game. The Bulldogs had won seven of their last eight games prior to that loss to the Thundering Herd. The Bulldogs are led by quarterback Cody Sokol, the Iowa transfer who has thrown 29 TD passes, and running back Kenneth Dixon. He has rushed for 1,236 yards and 21 touchdowns.

  • No. 24 Illini top American 70-55 Dec 6, 2014 3:58 PM
    Malcolm Hill scored 13 points as No. 24 Illinois defeated American 70-55 on Saturday. The Illini (7-1) only led by two points midway through the first half, but a 17-2 run put the Eagles (5-4) in an early deficit.

  • Imrem: Much smaller goals for Northwestern, Illinois Dec 3, 2014 10:08 PM
    Illinois and Northwestern live in a world that college football left behind. Others shoot for a national championship while the Illini and Wildcats can't even win the state title.

  • Illini: Beckman will return as football coach Nov 30, 2014 6:16 PM
    After a season of speculation about whether he would lose his job, Illinois coach Tim Beckman will be back for 2015, athletic director Mike Thomas said Sunday. Beckman apparently secured his job with a 47-33 victory at Northwestern on Saturday and three wins in the team’s final five games. That made the Illini (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) bowl eligible in Beckman’s third season and apparently signified the kind of progress Thomas said he needed to see in the football program. “Our student-athletes have played their best football of the season down the stretch of a tough schedule that included nine bowl-eligible opponents. It’s my expectation that with the upcoming bowl and another offseason of development, that Tim’s continued leadership will keep Fighting Illini Football moving forward and even more competitive in the conference and nationally,” Thomas said in a brief statement. Beckman hopes he can build on the six wins. “We all understand that this is a work in progress and that we need to continue moving forward in a positive way,” he said in an emailed statement. “I’m very proud of our six wins so far this season and the toughness we showed down the stretch.” “I know this program’s gotten better since we first started it — in every way, not just on the football field,” he said. “I challenge the negativity; it’s about building something, to me. We can always point fingers, but that’s the easy way out. Instead, change, be positive, for the kids’ sake. Be positive for them, don’t worry about me.” The team’s bowl destination is undetermined. Illinois is 12-24 under Beckman. His contract expires in January 2017. Sunday’s announcement didn’t include a raise or contract extension. Beckman took over at Illinois after Ron Zook was fired following a 6-6 season in 2011. But Zook’s team finished with six straight regular-season losses. Major challenges remain, on the field and off. Illinois’ defense has been a problem, giving up 33.9 points and 464.3 yards a game, including 249.6 yards on the ground. All of those are Big Ten worsts. The Illini also struggled to create turnovers, forcing 18 in 12 games, five of them in the Saturday win over Northwestern. And many fans appear to have already voted with their wallets. Attendance has been dropping since the Zook years, from 61,707 for every home game in 2008, the season after a surprise trip to the Rose Bowl, to an announced average of 41,549 this season. Only Purdue and Northwestern drew fewer fans among Big Ten schools, and actual attendance was often much smaller than the announced figures in 60,670-seat Memorial Stadium. But Beckman’s 2014 team avoided the collapse that cost Zook his job. After they appeared to hit rock bottom with a 38-27 home loss to the Boilermakers on Oct. 4, the Illini rebounded with wins over Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern. The offense has been fairly effective, scoring 26.6 points a game —eighth in the conference. Quarterback Wes Lunt should be back, too, though he sat out the final two games of the season after struggling in his return from a broken leg. And Beckman’s players rallied around him as speculation about his future grew. “There are a lot of naysayers out there, and for us to get that win today was, I’m sure, a huge weight off of his shoulders,” running back Devin Church said.

  • Illini bowl eligible with 47-33 win over Cats Nov 29, 2014 5:04 PM
    Reilly O’Toole passed for 147 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 147 yards, Josh Ferguson had a pair of rushing scores and Illinois took advantage of five Northwestern turnovers for a 47-33 victory over its in-state and Big Ten rival. Illinois (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) is bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, and the win may end speculation that coach Tim Beckman could lose his job in his third season.

  • NU, DePaul, Illinois women all off to fast starts Nov 29, 2014 5:34 PM
    Some really great things are happening right now with the women’s college basketball teams in Illinois. Northwestern (4-0) travels to No. 18 DePaul (4-1) on Saturday night (7 p.m.) for a crosstown rivalry matchup that features two of the most accomplished coaches in the sport. Another Big Ten contender suddenly could be Illinois, which, on Thanksgiving, pulled off one of the best wins of the college basketball season.

  • Rice, Hill lead Illinois past Baylor 62-54 Nov 29, 2014 12:16 AM
    Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill each scored 17 points to lead Illinois to a 62-54 win over Baylor in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational on Friday night. Rice, who had seven rebounds and three steals, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Illini are 6-0 and have won 32 straight November games.

  • Illini improve to 5-0 Nov 27, 2014 7:40 PM
    Rayvonte Rice scored 21 points and pulled down seven rebounds to lead Illinois past Indiana State 88-62 on Thursday in the third round of the Las Vegas Invitational. Malcolm Hill scored 17 points with eight rebounds, while going 11 of 12 at the free-throw line for the Illini (5-0). Nnanna Egwu, Aaron Cosby and Kendrick Nunn each had 10 points for Illinois, which is 3-0 in the Invitational. The Illini, who never trailed, hit 8 of 9 of their first shots and jumped to a 30-8 advantage. Grant Prusator led Indiana State (3-2) off the bench with 17 points. Before Thursday, he only played two games this season with one field goal. Brenton Scott added 10 points for the Sycamores, who are 2-1 in the tourney. Indiana State got no closer than 19 points the rest of the first half and trailed 40-21 at intermission. By halftime, Illinois’ field-goal percentage fell to 38 percent, but the Illini still made 6 of 13 from 3-point range. Indiana State finished the half at 25 percent from the field. The Illinois lead grew to as many as 30 with 13:04 left in the game. The Sycamores cut it to 17 twice with just under 5 minutes left, but came no closer.

  • Big questions ahead of Illini-Northwestern game Nov 24, 2014 5:47 PM
    Big questions face Illinois as it gets ready for something it hasn’t faced since 2011: a big game to close the regular season with a potential bowl bid on the line. The first: Who starts at quarterback Saturday at Northwestern after backup Reilly O’Toole came off the bench and engineered a win against Penn State? The second: Does coach Tim Beckman have to win to keep his job?

  • Illini get big win over Penn State 16-14 Nov 22, 2014 5:01 PM
    Backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole led Illinois on a late drive that set up a game-winning David Reisner field goal, delivering a 16-14 win over Penn State on Saturday. Reisner hit from 36 yards with eight seconds left on the clock. Minutes earlier he missed a 50-yarder that would have put Illinois on top.

  • Penn State relaxed, but Illini under pressure Nov 21, 2014 4:43 PM
    Getting ready for Saturday’s game at Illinois, a relaxed Penn State coach James Franklin talked this week about his top-ranked run defense. Six-hundred miles west at Illinois (4-6, 1-5), the mood was far different. The Illini have just two fewer wins than the Nittany Lions, but as they try to get to six and a bowl, the pressure is ratcheting up on third-year coach Tim Beckman.

  • Hill leads Illinois past Austin Peay Nov 21, 2014 9:40 PM
    Malcolm Hill led Illinois with a career-high 16 points and added six rebounds in a 107-66 victory over Austin Peay on Friday. In the first game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, the Illini cruised for much of the night.

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