Miami holds off Illinois for Sweet 16 berth
Austin, TX – Rion Brown made two free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining as Miami-Florida held on to defeat Illinois, 63-59, Sunday in NCAA Tournament South Region third round action.
Brown, who provided some spark off the bench, finished with 21 points and five rebounds and made 5-of-10 from 3-point range for the second-seeded Hurricanes (29-6), who advance to the Sweet 16 for just the second time in program history and the first time in 13 years.
Miami, which also received 17 points and seven assists from Shane Larkin and 10 points and eight boards from Kenny Kadji, will play third-seeded Marquette in the regional semifinals in Washington D.C. on Thursday.
Brandon Paul had 18 points, while Nnanna Egwu registered a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds for the seventh-seeded Fighting Illini (23-13), who were searching for their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005, when the team went on to finish as the national runner-up.
"I thought we battled, I asked them to play with courage, they played with a high level of courage. I thought their poise was tremendous. They were resilient. We had several guys make plays. We had our opportunities," Illinois head coach John Groce said.
Abrams broke a tie game with 1:24 to play and made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe to put Illinois up one point. On the ensuing Miami possession, Larkin created some space and hit a huge trey from the right wing to make it a 57-55 advantage with 1:00 to play.
"Well, Kenny said high ball screen and they had been staying with me the whole game, the big had stayed with me and tried to make me give up the ball. And the guard actually got back to me and I just tried to make a move to the basket and he cut me off, so I just stepped back and shot the three. And it went in," Larkin said of the shot.
D.J. Richardson, who finished with a disappointing five points on 1-of-11 shooting -- and 1-of-10 from behind the arc -- looked to redeem himself with Illinois' potential answer. His 3-point attempt with 43 ticks remaining missed, though, and both teams fought for the loose ball that eventually went out of bounds.
The play was not reviewed, but it appeared that Illinois should have retained possession. Instead, Miami got the ball back still up two and then made it a four-point game as Durand Scott hit two free throws.
Egwu made two free throws to give the Illini some hope with 22 seconds left, but Larkin returned the favor with his own set with 15.6 seconds remaining all but securing the victory.
Two Kadji free throws with 7:09 remaining increased Miami's lead to 48-42. Paul then heated up and kicked off and capped a 12-4 surge with a two triples, and a slam, respectively, to make it 54-52 in favor of Illinois with just 3:22 to play.
Both teams came up short over the next couple minutes until Scott was left open underneath the hoop to easily put-back a missed layup and knotted the contest up at 54-54 at the 1:58 mark.
Illinois opened up the second half on a 11-7 run to take a 37-36 edge on Egwu's jumper with 11 1/2 minutes remaining. The Hurricanes, though, regained brief control with a 10-2 spurt that ended with consecutive triples by Brown.
The contest started out slow, as Miami held a 7-2 advantage for the game's first five-plus minutes until Paul's jumper at the midway point ended a 16-7 swing and made it 18-14.
With less than five minutes to play in the first half, two treys from Larkin and Brown bookended Joseph Bertrand jumper to make it 29-22. Paul scored Illinois' final four points of the half, the final coming at the buzzer, to bring the Illini within 29-26 at the break.
The series is tied 1-1 with the only previous meeting coming Dec. 28, 1968 ... Miami is 6-6 all-time in seven overall NCAA Tournament appearances ... Illinois coach John Groce reached the Sweet 16 with his former team, Ohio University, last year ... Illinois is 1-8 all-time versus Top-2 seeds in the tourney ... Illinois made just 7-of-27 from behind the arc, while Miami connected on 9-of-25.