Less than a week later, with the Illini, still fighting through a tough non-conference schedule, Deron was knocked out of a game against Maryland-Eastern Shore with a broken jaw.
Somehow, Deron only missed three games and came back on January 3rd to score 20 points in 34 minutes with his jaw still wired shut. It was one of the most inspiring performances of the college season as he pushed Illinois to an 80-73 win over Illinois State. The Illini finished non-conference play with a 9-2 record and in the eight games he played, D-Will averaged 13.8 points and 6.1 assists per game.
Illinois entered conference play hot and started their Big Ten schedule strong with a won over Ohio State, but they hit the speed bump in their schedule three days later in a loss to Purdue and lost again in their next game against Northwestern. Through three Big Ten games, the Illini were sitting near the bottom of the conference, but they would rely on D-Will to pull them back up.
Over the next four weeks, Illinois went 6-1 in conference play including a big win over Michigan State. Deron averaged 14 points and 6.1 assists per game over the stretch. The season came to a tipping point on February 18th in Champaign where the unranked Illini hosted No. 12 Wisconsin, who had beaten them by 20 in January.
As they had over the torrid stretch that pushed them back into the conference title picture, Illinois leaned on D-Will against Wisconsin and No. 5 delivered. He pulled out all the stops, with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-18 from the field to lead Illinois to a 65-57 win.
“After I hit the first couple, I was feeling good, so I just let them fly,” Deron said. “We owed them one. They just kicked our butt. We just wanted to get back at them right now, and we hope to play them again. We hope to in the Big Ten tournament.”
The win over Wisconsin propelled Illinois through the rest of their conference schedule and they won their next five straight to capture the regular season Big 10 title. D-Will finished conference play with an average of 13.9 points and 6.1 assists per game.
In the conference tournament, Illinois cruised to a 71-59 win over Indiana in the semifinals behind 20 points and seven assists from D-Will. They then rolled through Michigan in the semifinal, but fell in the tournament championship game as Wisconsin got revenge with a 7-53 win despite 14 points an three assists from Deron.
Despite not capturing another conference tournament crown, the Illini were an easy bid to the NCAA tournament and made some noise in the 64-team bracket. As a No. 5 seed they opened with a mid-major trap matchup against Murray State. But Illinois did not take their opponent for granted and cruised to a 72-53 win with the help of eight points and eight assists from D-Will. It wasn’t until the next round however, against No. 4 Cincinnati that Deron would host his tournament coming out party. In the 92-68 win, which sent the Illini flying into the Sweet 16, D-Will matched his season-high with 31 points on 10-for-13 from the field, including 6-of-8 from downtown. He added seven assists and impressed even his own coach.
“We played at another level,” Bruce Weber said. “We talked about playing at a magical level, and some guys were magical tonight.”
Unfortunately the magic wore off in time for their Sweet 16 game against No. 1 Duke as the Illini, despite seven points and six dimes from D-Will, bowed out of the tournament in a 72-62 loss.