Illinois’ strong offense makes for a rare dominant night in the Big Ten

CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 30: Illinois Fighting Illini Guard Mark Smith (13) backpedals into Rutgers Scarlet Knights Guard Geo Baker (0) during the Big Ten Conference college basketball game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Illinois Fighting Illini on January 30, 2018, at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN – Back in the day, the man who was sitting near the floor at the State Farm Center used to make nights like this happen all the time.

Wearing a jersey that had a little darker shade of orange than the sweater he was sporting Tuesday night, Deron Williams helped Illinois to theirĀ best run of basketball the past generation from 2002-2005. That included an appearance in the National Championship game in his final year.

Barring an unbelievable turnaround, such a run won’t happen for the Illini team he was watching in 2018. But for one night, Brad Underwood got to have an entertaining and somewhat stress free evening in his first Big Ten campaign.

His offense caught fire from the start and never let up over 40 minutes against Rutgers, winning 91-60 in their most dominating performance of the season by far. The 31-point win, in fact, was their biggest in the Big Ten since 2009.

Again, it’s just the second win in the conference this year. But a season-high 56.9 percent shooting against the fifth-best scoring defense in the country gave everyone wearing orange, including Williams, a reason to smile in what has been a trying Big Ten season.

Trent Frazier took the doubt out of the result in the first half when he knocked down five-three pointers in the first half. The 19-point halftime lead would grow as high as 40 at one point in the second half, with Kipper Nichols strong recent stretch continuing with a game-high 19 points.

At 2-8, there’s no reason to party in Champaign like it was the last time Williams took the floor. But at least for one night, the Illini turned back the clock to a better time in their history with hope that it might return in the future.