In a day full of several controversial calls across the NCAA Tournament, the contest pitting No. 7 Illinois against No. 2 Miami wasn’t an exception.
After Shane Larkin made a go-ahead three pointer for the Hurricanes to take a 57-55 lead with a minute left in the contest, controversy struck on the other end.
Illini senior D.J. Richardson air balled a three pointer that caromed out of bounds, appearing to come off the hands of Miami senior Kenny Kadji. The referees called it Miami ball and from that point on it was a free throw contest, with Miami making six straight free throws to seal their victory with the final of 63-59.
Illinois started the game shooting 1-7 from the field, including missing on their first four three pointers.
A three pointer from senior Tyler Griffey ignited the Illini offense as they hit on six of their next nine field goals, including 3 three pointers from Griffey. The Illini led 18-14 with 10:01 left in the half.
The high powered Miami attack led by ACC player of the year Shane Larkin ignited on a 9-0 run over a four minutes and 29 second stretch, including four straight points by senior big man Kenny Kadji. Kadji finished with 10 points and Larkin finished with 17 in the contest.
Both teams relied heavily on their three point attack throughout the contest. Seven of the Illini’s 23 field goals and nine of Miami’s 22 field goals came from behind the arc.
The Illini took advantage of the offensive glass to keep the game close, beating Miami 21-8 on second chance points.
Illinois picked up momentum after a behind-the-back save at half court by Richardson. Sophomore guard Tracy Abrams took advantage of the extended possession with a dunk giving Illinois their first lead since they 9:32 in the first half at 35-34 with 12:35 left in the game.
Larkin continued to lead the Hurricane attack as he has all season, exploding on an and-one lay-up with 10:29 left. After missing the free throw, senior guard Durand Scott dunked for his first bucket of the contest, giving Miami a 40-37 lead.
After Richardson missed his sixth three pointer of the game, junior Rion Brown followed it up with his fifth three pointer giving the Hurricanes 46-39 lead with 8:51 left. Brown finished with a game-high 21 points.
Illinois senior Brandon Paul refused to let this be his last game as an Illini, hitting back-to-back three pointers to cut the Miami lead to two. Paul finished with 18 points on the night.
A lay-up finish by Abrams tied the game up at 52-52 with 4:06 left.
Paul continued to lift the Illini offensive with a dunk giving Illinois a 54-52 lead with 3:03 left.
A rare second chance finish on a tip in by Miami senior Durand Scott tied the game up at 54-54 with 1:58 left to play.
An Abrams free throw gave the Illini a 55-54 lead late in the contest, but Larkin and company never let up.
It was a tough way for Illinois to go out but the Illini faithful has to be happy with the team’s success in the debut season for Coach John Groce.
With the loss, Illini seniors Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, Tyler Griffey and Sam McLaurin will hang up their jerseys.
Miami continues their surprising season with the victory and advances to the Sweet Sixteen to face No. 3 Marquette.