Coral Gables, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of Top-25 teams collide at the BankUnited Center on Tuesday evening, as the 15th-ranked Miami Hurricanes play host to the 24th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini as part of the 2014 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
John Groce's Illini have found their way into the Top-25 this week thanks to a stellar start that has the team sitting at an impressive 6-0. Illinois is playing its first true road game of the season, but does enter this game off a pair of neutral site matchups last week, capturing the LAs Vegas Classic crown with victories over Indiana State (88-62) and Baylor (62-54).
Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes have their own in-season tournament title, capturing the Charleston Classic crown. Miami has a marquee win under its belt already, topping former nationally-ranked foe Florida in mid-November (69-67). Most recently, the team moved to 7-0 on the year with an 87-75 win over South Alabama.
This series is all knotted up at 1-1. The Hurricanes won the last matchup, a 63-59 decision in the third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
The Illini were able to overcome a poor shooting performance (.390) by playing stifling defense, forcing 15 turnovers and only committing five miscues themselves, as a strong second half by Illinois handed the team the tourney title. Guards Malcolm Hill and Rayvonte Rice led the way offensively for Illinois, sharing the scoring lead with 17 points apiece.
It was an off-performance for an Illinois team that has been much more explosive offensively this year. Despite the troubles against Baylor, the Illini are still averaging a robust 90.0 ppg on a solid .483 shooting. In addition, the team has almost doubled its force turnovers (100) from its turnovers committed (53). Rice has been on fire this season, shooting .583 from the floor and pacing the team in both scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). Hill has been equally efficient (.563) adding 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per outing. Fellow guard Aaron Cosby rounds out the top scoring threats on the roster with 11.5 ppg.
Miami is enjoying strong play at both ends of the floor this season, averaging 77.0 ppg, while allowing just 60. the Hurricanes have found their range on most nights, shooting .504 from the field overall, while holding foes just under 40 percent (.396). Transfer guards Sheldon McClellan (Texas) and Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) have transformed this team. McClellan is shooting the lights outs at .603 and is averaging 16.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He was recently named the ACC Player of the Week. Rodriguez is shooting a scorching .486 from behind the arc (18-of-37) and is both a potent scorer (14.9 ppg) and deft distributor (4.3 apg). Manu Lecomte (13.0 ppg) is another perimeter threat, shooting .514 from long range (18-of-35).
The Hurricanes shot .600 from the floor in the first half to blow by South Alabama and take an insurmountable 43-21 lead into halftime. The team cooled off to a still sharp .481 after the break and cruised to victory. Five Hurricanes finished in double figures in the balanced attack, led by McClellan's 17 points. Lecomte added 14 points to the cause, Omar Sherman and Tonye Jeriki added 13 points each, and Deandre Burnett finished with 10. Jeriki, a 7-foot junior, had a huge all-around game. In addition to his scoring, he posted eight rebounds, eight assists and five blocks.