Illinois Combating Illini males’s basketball has been reborn the final two seasons underneath Brad Underwood. The Illini went seven straight seasons with out an NCAA match, however lastly broke by means of final season with a Huge Ten match championship and a No. 1 seed in March Insanity. Their run ended early when native rival Loyola-Chicago pulled off the spherical of 32 upset, leaving Illinois to regroup with out All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu as he jumped to the NBA.
The Illini began sluggish this 12 months with losses to Marquette and Cincinnati in Nov., however since then they’ve been one of many 20 or so finest groups within the nation. Illinois ultimately gained a share of the Huge Ten match title, and had a declare as essentially the most balanced workforce within the convention.
The entered the NCAA match as a No. 4 seed. After such a disappointing loss final 12 months, it felt like Underwood was underneath some strain from the fanbase to point out his spectacular common season outcomes might translate to March.
For the primary 39 minutes towards No. 13 seed Chattanooga on Friday, Illinois was getting ready to one other match catastrophe. Then with 46 seconds left in regulation, the Illini took their first lead of the night time. They held on for a 54-53 win to advance to the second spherical and a matchup with the winner of Houston/UAB.
The Chattanooga Mocs had the lead for the primary 39:14 of the sport …
However within the final 46 seconds, Illinois pulled off the win. It is their first tourney win after being down on the half since 1993 pic.twitter.com/ZPYiCtmA65
— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 19, 2022
Chattanooga gained the Southern within the common season and the convention match, however they nonetheless weren’t a very talked-about choose within the bracket with solely 16.6 % of individuals on ESPN selecting them to beat Illinois. It felt prefer it was destined it occur for a lot of the time on Friday, however ultimately Illinois’ superior measurement and expertise gained out.
The Mocs led by 4 factors at halftime, and opened up the result in 40-29 three minutes later. Illinois had a horrible taking pictures night time — 38.8 % from the sphere, 3-of-17 from three, and 13-of-22 from the foul line — however senior guard Alfonso Plummer made all three of the workforce’s triples within the second half to assist reduce into the deficit.
A layup from Kofi Cockburn put Illinois for the primary time all night time with 46 seconds left. Chattanooga instantly took the lead again with a pair of free throws, however Plummer drew a foul himself and put Illinois up one by hitting them each.
The Mocs had yet one more likelihood, however their broad open remaining shot was simply off.
Right here’s how Illinois stole victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Illini protection stepped up late
A 3-pointer from Grant Ledford put Chattanooga up 51-46 with 4:46 left within the second half. The Mocs wouldn’t file one other subject aim earlier than the tip of the sport.
Illinois’ protection began to lock down with the sport on the road. Cockburn had three blocks on the night time, none extra spectacular than this one.
Elevate your hand should you didn’t know Cockburn had hops like that.
After Plummer’s free throws put Illinois up, Chattanooga had yet one more likelihood. Coleman Hawkins made an important play to dam their layup try earlier than the Mocs ultimately recovered the ball and missed the buzzer-beater.
Chattanooga shot 32.3 % from the sphere and 26.7 % from three within the loss. In addition they shot 50 % from the foul line, so perhaps it wasn’t all concerning the Illini protection.
Kofi Cockburn was efficient even when it wasn’t his finest recreation
Cockburn was an All-American on Illinois’ No. 1 seed final 12 months who waffled on coming again for one more 12 months earlier than ultimately returning. He was much more dominant this 12 months, averaging 21.1 factors and 10.6 rebounds per recreation whereas once more incomes All-American honors.
For nearly as good as Cockburn is, he does have some shortcomings. He isn’t notably cellular defensively, he’s a poor passer on offense, and he doesn’t have taking pictures vary in any respect (although 64 % from the foul line this 12 months counted as an enchancment).
Nonetheless, Cockburn is certifiably large at 7-foot, 290 kilos, and that was sufficient to present the Illini what they wanted.
Cockburn completed with 17 factors and 13 rebounds.
Illinois has to play higher in the event that they need to attain the second weekend
This was not an encouraging efficiency from the Illini, however hey: a win is a win. March is all concerning the potential to outlive and advance, and the Illini survived.
They higher step it up subsequent spherical or they’ll be going house. Underwood’s job is secure regardless, however the Illini really want a Candy 16 journey to maintain the constructive momentum in this system going, particularly when a lot of this workforce is predicted to be gone subsequent 12 months. Dropping to No. 13 seed Chattanooga would have been a significant bummer, however someway, a way, Illinois superior.