Michigan Beats Illinois Despite Plane Crash


Published on March 10 2017 6:32 am
Last Updated on March 10 2017 6:33 am


The toughest part for some of Michigan's basketball players was simply getting back on an airplane.

Getting back out on court -- wearing yellow practice jerseys in place of their missing game uniforms -- was easy by comparison.

Flying into town on the Detroit Pistons' team jet only a few hours before tipoff because Michigan's original plane slid off a runway and slammed through a fence during an aborted takeoff a day earlier, the Wolverines raced to an early double-digit lead Thursday and beat Illinois 75-55 to reach the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

"It was something our kids will always remember, but I want them to always remember how they responded ," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Because this is really important. This is the way life goes sometimes, and you've got to respond positively to whatever comes your way. And, boy, did they."

Derrick Walton scored 19 points, and Zak Irvin added 18 for No. 8 seed Michigan (21-11), which led Illinois by 20 points in the first half and now meets regular-season conference champion Purdue.

"Maybe some people, in the back of their mind, thought we might come out flat or come out a little tired," Michigan's Duncan Robinson said. "But I think we were just aggressive."

The airplane carrying Michigan's coaching staff, players, cheerleaders and others -- "Children, families," Irvin said -- aborted its takeoff Wednesday.

"To see the fear in some (passengers') eyes," sophomore forward Moe Wagner said, "I realized, `Oh, my God, this is real."

No one was injured, according to Michigan spokesman Kurt Svoboda.

Beilein, players and others helped folks get off the plane -- senior forward Mark Donnal opened one emergency exit door -- as the smell of gas fumes filled the air outside.

During a meeting attended by players and counselors Wednesday night, Beilein offered the option of forfeiting the game. Some players wondered aloud about driving.

Eventually, the decision was made to play and to fly.

The journey began all over again Thursday, with players waking around 6 a.m., grabbing breakfast at a hotel buffet, boarding the plane lent by their neighboring NBA team, and landing at 8:45 a.m.

"I was legitimately scared today," Wagner said, "starting and landing."

Michigan arrived at the arena at about 10:35 a.m., and they were playing basketball less than two hours after that (tipoff was delayed about 20 minutes).

The Wolverines were forced to wear simple, practice tank tops -- no players' names on the backs -- against ninth-seeded Illinois (18-14) because their proper uniforms, along with everyone's suitcases, were trapped on the plane.

Once play began, though, Michigan never trailed.

"Felt like we were back in our sanctuary," Walton said. "We've been through a lot emotionally, mentally."

After the game, Beilein's voice choked while he spoke about seeing his daughter and son in the arena at game's end. (His wife, who was on the plane Wednesday, decided to stay home.)

Didn't matter that much to him that his team won.

Or that he earned his school-record 210th basketball coaching victory.

"I never feared for my life at any time," he said, "but there's a lot of circumstances that could've been very different in those few minutes."

Penn State 72, Michigan State 63

Penn State brought a slice of Happy Valley to the Palestra and fans were set to make it happy hour deep into the Philly night.

"You have a time for a pop?" Tim Chambers bellowed to fans who trudged through the snow to sit in the old-style gym.

"Smokey Joe's! Smokey Joe's!"

So off they went to the old-school tavern, a victory celebration on tap.

Hey, maybe Pat Chambers will even pick up the tab.

In his sixth season as coach, Chambers picked up one of his biggest wins yet, in front of family -- including brother Tim -- friends and the roaring "We Are!" alums that gave the Nittany Lions the home edge they needed 200 miles from campus.

Lamar Stevens scored 18 points and Tony Carr had 14 to lead Penn State to a 72-63 win over Michigan State at the Palestra on Saturday.

"These kids will never forget this experience as long as they live," Chambers said.

The Nittany Lions (10-7, 2-2 Big Ten) pulled off a monumental win for the program at the famed Philly gym and beat the Spartans for the first time since 2011. Penn State led almost the entire game and gave thousands of fans who came out in the snow a reason to bellow "We Are!" in the waning minutes.

Indiana 95, Iowa 73

Too many times this season, Indiana took good shots that ended up hitting nothing but rim.

All that changed against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament.

James Blackmon Jr. and the Hoosiers fired away effectively from long range, and Indiana used a huge second half to notch a 95-73 victory Thursday night.

The 10th-seeded Hoosiers will next face second-seeded Wisconsin in the quarterfinals Friday night. Indiana was 3-10 in the Big Ten Tournament over the previous 10 years.

The Hoosiers shot a blistering 60 percent from the floor and went 12 for 20 from behind the arc -- including 6 for 8 after halftime.

"We're making shots that we have at times missed this year," coach Tom Crean said. "But it was never a question that we were not a good shooting team. It's a matter of making sure that the ball is moving."

Oh, the ball was moving all right. Around the perimeter and then to the bottom of the net.

Indiana (18-14) used the 3-pointer to turn a close game into a rout. It was 48-all before Blackmon, Devonte Green and Josh Newkirk combined to connect five times from behind the arc during a 30-11 blitz.

"A lot of different people were making 3s," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "You got to give them credit. They were moving the ball. They played in and out. They shared it."

Blackmon scored 23 points and De'Ron Davis added 15. Seven different players scored at least eight points.

"We're getting a lot of open shots," guard Robert Johnson said. "Guys are sharing the ball, getting each other shots where they're comfortable."

Jordan Bohannon led seventh-seeded Iowa (18-14) with 24 points and 10 assists. The Hawkeyes entered the tournament with a four-game winning streak, including victories over Indiana, Maryland and Wisconsin.

Northwestern 83, Rutgers 61

As Northwestern scored basket after basket, guard Bryant McIntosh kept looking at the scoreboard and saw Rutgers was stuck on nine points.

"That was the one thing that stuck with me," he said. "I didn't really gather how much we were scoring on top of that."

It was 31 consecutive points over a stretch of 10 1/2 minutes as sixth-seeded Northwestern routed 14th-seeded Rutgers 83-61 on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. Vic Law scored 10 of his 16 points during that 31-0 run that put the game out of reach early.

"We had to come out and throw the first punch," said Law, who made five of his six shots but didn't know it was a 31-0 run. "We had a lot of stuff going our way. A lot of stuff was rolling for us. But I think Rutgers might've been a little tired. When things were going well for us, they seemed to be missing open shots."

Rutgers missed 14 shots in a row as Northwestern took over and made a major statement in moving on to the quarterfinals to face third-seeded and 25th-ranked Maryland. The Wildcats (22-10) can only improve their seeding for a likely NCAA tournament berth after taking care of business against the 14th-seeded Scarlet Knights (15-18).

Four players scored in double figures for Northwestern, which shot a season-best and Big Ten tournament-best 60 percent and proved something during that impressive run.

"It showed that we actually do have some firepower," said McIntosh, who had 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting. "In the last couple months, [people have] said that we really struggle to score, and that's been true. To come out and do that, it gave everybody confidence, but I also think it showed everyone that we are capable of scoring, as well."

By the time of Sanjay Lumpkin's dunk with 6:11 left in the first half, Northwestern led by 28 and had full control of the game. Nigel Johnson's 3-pointer that ended the run drew a rousing cheer from Rutgers fans who were part of a sparse crowd in the final game of the night.

"Not the way I wanted to end it," first-year coach Steve Pikiell said. "Certainly wasn't the defensive team that we've been most of the year."

Johnson led Rutgers with 21 points.