Twice in three seasons prior to the Broncos' current run, they won 20 games but were not picked for the NIT and therefore did not choose to play in the postseason. There's a strong recruiting class hanging in the balance. Brad Underwood was in attendance after being officially introduced earlier in the afternoon, however coaching responsibilities once again fell to Jamall Walker, who returned to the sidelines for a second game.
But somehow, this Illini team won't quite let loose of the 2016-17 season.
Abrams, a sixth-year guard, scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in the second half to lead IL, which advanced to face fourth-seeded Central Florida (23-11) in quarterfinal action on Wednesday night. That contest will televised on ESPN2 at 8:00pm CST. Taylor was fouled along the baseline by McIntosh and hit the two game-winning free throws.
"They are a Big Ten team with some good big guys, they can shoot, they have great perimeter players that can score", Rice said.
"It's also a big challenge, and we'll have to play really, really well. We're going to Disney World".
Boise State is just two wins from reaching the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden in NY. Thus the trip to Florida.
Boise State was missing two of their main players, including David Wacker, who injured his shoulder in the loss at Utah last week. The Broncos extended their lead early in the second half before IL woke up and started getting hot from 3-point range.
Tracy Abrams led IL (20-14) with 18 points.
Abrams was joined in double figures by Malcolm Hill (13 points), while Te'Jon Lucas at least flirted with a triple double with seven points, seven assists and six rebounds.
But the biggest story of the evening was Malcolm Hill, who surpassed Dee Brown as the third all-time leading scorer in IL program history. He finished the night with 1,817 points, five past Brown.
But it will be Walker who continues to direct the team. Illinois State will lose Deon Hawkins, who led the Redbirds with 15 points, as well as Paris Lee.
"The way they played against Valpo looked like they were an inspired team", Rice said.
"We have our hands full and traveling there, a home game for them, we'll be fighting for our lives no question". With a win, Rice will take sole possession of second place among Boise State coaches with 143 victories.
"Illinois is going through insane times", Rice said.
That increased maturity, and the coaching staff's confidence in the youth movement, was on display Tuesday in a pivotal situation.
Maverick Morgan is the only other player averaging in double figures for IL at 10.1 points per game, but Tracy Abrams (8.4 ppg), Leron Black (8.1) and Jalen Coleman-Lands (8.0) all are key contributors.