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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Illinois guard Da'Monte Williams (20) brings down a rebound in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at the State Farm Center in Champaign on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019.Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Illinois guard Da'Monte Williams (20) brings down a rebound in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at the State Farm Center in Champaign on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019.

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Hurricanes 81, Illini 79

WHAT HAPPENED

Miami guards Chris Lykes and DJ Vasiljevic hit dagger jumper after dagger jumper — even as Illinois erased most of its substantial first-half deficit. The key word there, however, is most, as the Illini couldn’t finish off the comeback.

WHAT IT MEANS

Illinois has now played two high-major teams. The first was a 21-point loss at Arizona. The second was nearly as bad at home before the Illini at least rallied. That means Illinois’ best win remains Hawaii.

WHAT’S NEXT

Hold on tight, Illini fans. The challenge gets exponentially harder the next two games as Big Ten play starts. Illinois heads to No. 3 Maryland on Saturday before a home game against No. 4 Michigan on Dec. 11.

Player of the game

Miami guard Chris Lykes

The diminutive Miami point guard had to fend off one of his own teammates for the game’s top honors, as DJ Vasiljevic put together a strong case of his own. Lykes led the Hurricanes by tying his career high with 28 points to go with four steals. He also drew what proved to be the game-winning charge on Ayo Dosunmu with 2.7 seconds to play and Illinois down 80-79.

Backcourt

Illinois D+ | Miami A+

Lykes and Vasiljevic (20 points) hit several contested jumpers late in the game. Made them, too. It was the wide-open looks they got early, though, that probably provided the necessary confidence for some late-game heroics. The Illini guards — led by Trent Frazier’s 14 points — just never found much of a sustainable rhythm at either end of the court for the full 40 minutes.

Frontcourt

Illinois A | Miami B-

Can’t fault the Illini big men for this one. For much of the game, the only good thing going for the Illinois offense was getting the ball to Kofi Cockburn. The 7-foot, 285-pound freshman center, per usual so far this season, delivered. Cockburn led the Illini with 23 points, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili came through with a solid overall performance with six points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Bench

Illinois C- | Miami D-

The Illini bench — at least in the second half — became just Da’Monte Williams and Alan Griffin. None of the other reserves played in Illinois’ comeback attempt. Griffin, back after a one-game suspension, finished with eight points, three rebounds and two blocks and made two strong defensive plays in the final minutes.

Overall

Illinois C | Miami B+

December is going to be a pivotal month for the Illini. The level of competition ratchets up significantly. Starting off with a loss puts Illinois behind the 8-ball immediately with tougher opponents coming in the next two games. Significantly tougher.

News-Gazette

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).