The 16th-seeded Knights took it to the nation's top-ranked team in the first half Thursday night, but Illinois (33-1) found life and came away with a 67-55 win. Fairleigh Dickinson outscored Illinois inside, won the rebounding battle and even led the Illini for a few seconds in the first half.
Illinois guard Dee Brown called his team's first-half performance "kind of embarrassing," especially before a huge crowd dominated by Illini orange-clad fans.
"We had breakdowns on things we don't normally do," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "We've had a tendency, against teams that maybe don't have quite the reputation, to not play great basketball all the time."
But Illinois came out of halftime with a 26-9 run to lead 58-39 with 5:14 remaining and the Knights (23-10) couldn't get any closer than 11 after that.
Illinois (33-1) will play a second-round game Saturday against ninth-seeded Nevada (25-6), which scored the final eight points to beat Texas 61-57. The second game Saturday matches Kentucky (26-5) against Cincinnati (25-7).
"I don't really know much about them," Weber said. "We'll get at it tonight. We know they advanced last year, and we've, obviously, got a tough opponent in front of us. We have to play very good basketball to have a chance to advance."
Kentucky ousted Eastern Kentucky 72-64 in the first round, while Cincinnati beat Iowa 76-64.
Nevada's victory was led by Kevinn Pinkney with 15 points, Mo Charlo off the bench with 12 points and Ramon Sessions with 11.
"We win ugly. This was a typical game for us," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "We did the little things in the gut of the game. We made some loose ball plays late in the game and just made plays when we needed to make them."
Texas, led by Jason Klotz's career-high 20 points, had a 57-53 lead with just over two minutes to go. But the Longhorns (20-11) couldn't hold on.
Charlo's three-point play pulled Nevada to 57-56 with 1:28 left and Pinkney made a 5-footer to give the Wolf Pack the lead with 44.3 seconds left.
"It wasn't a specific play," Pinkney said. "I was just open and he found me."
Cincinnati was led by big man Jason Maxiel, who had 22 points, nine rebounds, six blocked shots, a pair of steals and the first two 3-point baskets of his college career.
"I just felt comfortable with my range and shot it," he said. "It went in, so I decided to take a second one."
The Cincinnati bench erupted.
"I knew he had it in him," teammate Eric Hicks said, laughing. "One, maybe, but not two."
With the 250-pound Maxiell dominating the inside, Cincinnati showed a decidedly more physical game and threatened to run away from the Hawkeyes (21-12) almost from the start.
His six blocked shots gave him 89 for the season, second only to the school-record 107 by Kenyon Martin in 2000.
"We thought we could get back in it," Iowa coach Steve Alford said. "We fought like crazy to get back in it, but to Cincinnati's credit they went on another big run and we just couldn't recover from there.
"We picked a bad day to have a not real good shooting day."
Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike scored 16 points each, and Azubuike ignited an 8-0 run early in the second half as Kentucky pulled away to victory.
"It was obvious from the first half that we needed some energy, somewhat of a spark," Hayes said. "I challenged myself to get every rebound and work my way around my man."
Matt Witt scored 21 points to lead the Colonels (22-9), who dropped to 0-6 in NCAA tournament games and 0-9 against the Wildcats.
The difference was Kentucky's dominant interior game. Hayes and Azubuike combined for 15 rebounds, and Kentucky had a 42-24 scoring advantage in the paint.
"They're a very physical team," Colonels forward Michael Haney said. "He (Hayes) is very strong. He always kept a body on me and pushed me out of the post."