There wasn’t much to like about Illinois’ 54-53 win over Chattanooga on Friday night from a statistical standpoint. But, this is March, and all that matters is being on the right side of the scoreboard when the clock expires.

That was the case for Illinois on Friday. The Illini led for just 25 seconds and didn’t get their first lead until just 46 seconds remained in the game. Down the stretch, though, Alfonso Plummer hit two clutch free throws, Coleman Hawkins had a big block and Chattanooga’s Malachi Smith missed a jump shot to end the game.


Illinois avoided disaster on Friday night. After the game, Illinois head coach Brad Underwood says that’s all that matters once it comes to the times of year.

“Survive and advance,” Underwood said, per Jeremy Werner of Illini Inquirer. “That’s the name of the game.”

Kofi Cockburn had a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds while Plummer had 15 points and accounted for all 3 of the team’s 3-point field goals. Hawkins was the only other player to hit double figures with 10.

Illinois’ sluggish start resulted in it having to dig itself out of a hole most of the game. The Illini trailed 20-6 in the first half and 40-29 early in the second.

“No doubt who threw the first punch — who threw the first three punches,” Underwood said.

Cockburn said that it wasn’t a lack of focus that led to Illinois’ rough start on Friday night.

Illinois is looking to back up its B1G regular season title with a strong run in March. Last year, the Illini were eliminated in the second round by Loyola-Chicago. They’re hoping to avoid a similar fate.

Friday night, Illinois needed every second, but it got the job done. Survive and advance. Now, Underwood’s squad will head into the weekend with a chance to make a trip to the Sweet 16.