Rapid reaction: Illinois overcomes sluggish start, survives scare from Chattanooga
Illinois didn’t have its first lead until 39:14 into the game. It only maintained an advantage for 25 seconds. But when the final horn sounded in Pittsburgh, it was the Illini on the right side of the scoreboard.
Trailing 53-52 with 12 seconds to play, Alfonso Plummer was fouled on a drive to the basket with a chance to put Illinois ahead in to closing seconds. He calmly knocked down both free throws to give the Illini a 54-53 lead.
Chatanooga’s Malachi Smith had two looks at the basket — the first blocked by Coleman Hawkins and the second off the far side of the rim as time expired. Illinois avoided the upset.
THE ILLINI SURVIVE, 54-53 😱
WHAT A GAME @IlliniMBB #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/YnIRCpPhwv
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 19, 2022
Illinois came out of the gates cold, trailing 20-6 at the 11-minute mark in the first half. The Illini struggled with turnovers, failed to make shots and weren’t defending the Mocs well.
Near the end of the half, the Illini did go on a bit of a spurt, fueled by a slew of made free throws and post buckets from Kofi Cockburn. The 14-point deficit was trimmed down to just 4 points at the half.
Chattanooga found some fire out of the locker room, too. The Mocs scored the first 7 points to take a 40-29 advantage in the first 3 minutes of the second half. It appeared as though another major upset was brewing.
Alfonso Plummer sparked a 10-0 run for the Illini, knocking down back-to-back 3-point shots with under 13 minutes to play. Those were the first two deep shots they had made all game, pulling Illinois to within 1 at 40-39.
Though Illinois didn’t grab the first lead until under a minute remained, it did just enough to hang around. Down the stretch, Cockburn, Plummer and Coleman Hawkins made some key plays.
Cockburn ended the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Plummer scored 15 and accounted for all 3 of Illinois’ 3-point field goals in the game. Hawkins ended the contest with 10 points and 8 rebounds while Andre Curbelo came off the bench to score 5 and dish out 4 assists.
Smith was the leading scorer for the Mocs with 14 points. Darius Banks was the leading rebounder with 13 boards.
Illinois advances to the Round of 32 and will play the winner of No. 5 seed Houston and No. 12 seed UAB.