For large stretches, Illinois looked like the better team. The team that would head back to snowy Champaign-Urbana with a Sweet 16 date in Washington, D.C., this week. But Shane Larkin and Co. assured Illinois would return home to watch the rest of the NCAA tournament instead of preparing to play in it.
PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Rion Brown, Miami. Two huge three-pointers in a 29-second sequence midway through the second half by the guard who came in averaging only six points saved the Hurricanes. Brown finished with a game-high 21 points on 5-of-10 three-point shooting off the bench and sealed the win by making two free throws with 7.7 seconds left to send Miami to its second-ever Sweet 16 and the Illini home for the season.
Brandon Paul was scintillating driving to the basket and shooting from outside in the second half. Tracy Abrams was gutty, although his late missed free throw proved huge. Both guards carried the Illini in the second half while Larkin, Durand Scott, despite his low scoring output (six points) and Brown proved their worth in the final minute.
Nnanna Egwu wasn't shy about taking jump shots. Or mixing it up in the lane. Sophomore continued his progression after 12-point, 12-rebound effort while Sam McLaurin was steady with his interior defense but did not score.
Tyler Griffey (12 points on four three-pointers) and Brown seemed to one-up each other with their outside shooting. Joseph Bertrand's energy, length and athleticism stood out. Those attributes helped keep Illini in contention,
Ask any Illinois fan before the season if they would have taken a four-point loss to a second seed during a Round of 32 game to end the season. Chances are a vast majority of fans would have raised their hands in agreement. Illinois overachieved all season, but couldn't make it last for one more night against the best team the ACC has to offer.