EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a seven-part series on the playing and coaching career of new University of Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger.
In Indiana, it's known as the Valentine Massacre.
At Illinois, it's the game Lon Kruger helped restore the basketball program's rich tradition.
The Illini were playing for a chance to tie for the 1998 Big Ten title in the regular season finale in Bloomington, Ind.
Illinois won, 82-72. But the game is best remembered for Indiana coach Bob Knight's temper tantrum.
With just under 10 minutes left, Knight became enraged after receiving his second and third technical fouls from referee Ted Valentine.
"It was on national television," said Jerry Hester, one of five senior starters for Illinois. "While Bob Knight was screaming and yelling, not wanting to leave the floor, Coach Kruger pulled us over to the bench.
"He joked with us on some plays that were funny throughout the game. Now that I'm older, I realize what he did. He kept us away from any distractions. That helped us stay focused. We finished that game strong."
During 21 seasons at Illinois, Lou Henson compiled a strong resume, highlighted by a trip to the 1989 Final Four.
But over his final nine seasons, Henson compiled only one NCAA Tournament win and many lower division Big Ten finishes.
The NCAA hit the program with sanctions in 1991.
"Coach Kruger is the one who turned everything around," said Cory Bradford, a guard on the '98 team. "When Coach Henson left, the program was going downhill. When Coach Kruger got there, he pretty much was picking things up from scratch."
Kruger took the Illini to the second round of the NCAA Tournament his first season. But it was the following season when Illinois tied for the Big Ten title that is his legacy.
"That was the year he stabilized Illinois as a top-20 program,” said Illinois State assistant Rob Judson, an assistant under Kruger at Illinois.
Picked to finish seventh in preseason polls, Illinois shocked prognosticators to share the Big Ten title with Michigan State, the Illini's first conference title in 14 years.
Five unheralded seniors went on an improbable run that serves as a reminder to never underestimate Kruger-coached teams.
"I loved his ability with player development," said Rob Cardinal, a trainer at Illinois for 30 years. "He took a few guys who hadn't seen much action with Coach Henson, blended them in, defined a role for each, and they had a terrific senior season."
Cardinal said Kruger set high goals the day he took the job.
"I'll never forget him sitting in the very first meeting with players, talking about his vision, the role each player would play," Cardinal said. "He knew more about each player than I ever thought a coach would know. He asked players to trust in him and believe in his vision."
That '98 Illinois team wasn't a national power. The Illini were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They finished 23-10. But they proved that underdogs can shock the world.
“I loved how he listened to the players,” Cardinal said. “He did a great job of teaching and coaching. But I really liked how he always had time to listen to them, on or off the court. There always seemed to be a partnership with him and his players.”
That partnership was demonstrated the following year when Matt Heldman, the '98 team captain, died in a car accident. Kruger loaded players on a bus and drove them to Heldman's hometown for the visitation.
To honor Heldman, Kruger created the Matto Award, which is given each year to the player who best displays hustle. The award has remained under Bill Self and Bruce Weber.
"Lon Kruger is the most professional individual I've ever come across," said Illinois associate athletic director Michael Thomas, who played for Henson. "He brought professionalism and a level of integrity to the program that is second to none."
The '98 team didn't feature a roster full of future NBA players. Bradford, who has played the past 11 years overseas, is the only one to have an extensive pro career. Jerry Hester also played overseas in Poland, Israel, England and Serbia.
"Lou Henson had a great run, but Coach Kruger put them back in the national spotlight," said Jeff Guin, a student manager at Florida under Kruger who joined his staff as an administrative assistant at Illinois. "After that season, Illinois remained a factor in the national picture."
The win over Indiana was played on a Tuesday night. The Illini needed No. 11 Purdue to beat No. 10 Michigan State five days later to tie for the Big Ten title.
Kruger invited the entire team over to his house to watch the Boilermakers defeat the Spartans 99-96 in overtime on his big screen TV.
“I was more nervous today than at any point during the year,” Kruger was quoted. “Sitting there watching, kind of helpless, I don't know how fans do it.”
A radio analyst for Illinois games, Hester said Big Ten championship rings inscribed with the words "focus" and "trust" demonstrated how that 1998 team overachieved.
"That was an amazing team, an amazing season," Hester said. "Doing some radio, fans sometimes will come up and tell me that was one of their favorite teams of all time because of how hard we played. A lot of that was due to how Coach Kruger coached us."