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UIUC students celebrate Illini men’s basketball win in NCAA tournament opener

Fans gathered at KAMS in Campustown Thursday to watch the NCAA tournament opener between UIUC vs Morehead State University.

Crowds gathered on campus and at bars across Campustown in Champaign to watch the University of Illinois Fighting Illini face off with the Morehead State Eagles on Thursday for the NCAA tournament opener.

The No. 3 Illini beat the No. 14 Eagles 85-to-69 in the team’s first match-up of the March Madness season. 

Holly Handschuh, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said she skipped class to watch the game with friends.

“I support the Fighting Illini because I love this school; I love the environment…I love everything about it, and I love to join in that culture. I think there is a big sports culture here especially with our basketball team,” she said. “People get excited. It’s fun to be part of that excitement.”

The Illini had a slow start during the game, with Morehead going on a 9-to-0 run at the start of the game. But the Illini had an explosive second half and were able to regain the lead after a 14-to-3 run led by Dain Dainja.

Late in the game, the Illini led by as much as 24 points. Terrence Shannon Jr. was the lead scorer for the Fighting Illini with 26 points, while Dainja followed closely behind with 21 points.

KAMS, a bar in Campustown, was a sea of orange and blue as fans were at the edge of their seats watching the game unfold.

UIUC senior Kate Jeffers said she raced to KAMS to watch the game before work. 

As a child, she belonged to a club in her community dedicated to watching Illinois basketball. Jeffers said she has never missed a game.

“I used to be a little cheerleader for [the club]. So, it’s always been in my lifestyle my whole life,” she said.

Handschuh said she believes the Illini could make it to the championship and win it all. 

“I hope we win. I think our team is set up so far…We’re set up for success, and I’m expecting big things,” she said.

UIUC junior Rachel Ellis said she has seen almost every basketball game this season and has created a tournament bracket with her friends. In her bracket, the Illinois men’s basketball team wins the championship.

“I feel like we’ve been doing very well this year, and I just want to see us advance further and further in the tournament,” she said.

Thursday’s win comes after Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament title on March 17.

The team will face Duquesne University in the second round of the NCAA tournament on March 23 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Illinois Student Newsroom

Illinois Student Newsroom

At the IPM Student Newsroom, journalism students from the U of I's College of Media work alongside professional journalists -- public radio reporters, editors and producers -- to produce multimedia stories on issues affecting east-central Illinois. Follow us on Instagram: @illinoisstudentnewsroom

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