Miami gives Illinois its 1st loss, 70-61
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Manu Lecomte caught a pass on the perimeter with no defender nearby, so he took his time sinking a 3-pointer, and then raised a fist toward the roar coming from Miami’s student section.
Balanced offense and stout defense gave the fans plenty to cheer about Tuesday night, when the 15th-ranked Hurricanes won a matchup of unbeaten teams, beating Illinois 70-61 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Three guards scored in double figures for the Hurricanes, including freshman Deandre Burnett with a season-high 19 points.
“They were really hard to guard,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “They put four guards out there a lot, they spread the floor and they made good plays.”
Burnett, limited by a knee injury at the start of the season, became the fourth player to lead the young Hurricanes in scoring. Lecomte had 15 points and Sheldon McClellan added 14. Angel Rodriguez added nine points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“Basketball is about balance,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “With this team, we have so many guards who play a lot and can handle the ball, they’re very good at sharing it and having good balance in our attack.”
Miami, which has never previously been ranked so high so early in a season, improved to 8-0.
“We’re not going to get caught up in the hype and the rankings and all that,” McClellan said. “We’re just going to continue to improve each game.”
The Illini fell to 6-1 with their earliest loss in the past four years. They came into the game averaging 90 points, but shot only 33 percent, including 7 for 30 from 3-point range.
Rayvonte Rice led the Illini with 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Malcolm Hill added 13 points, but the rest of the team shot 23 percent. Groce said poor shot selection was a culprit.
“I was proud of our guys — thank goodness they fought and their effort was really good, because the execution was awful,” Groce said. “Our heart was in the right place. We just have to play a heck of a lot smarter.”
The Hurricanes won despite shooting only 38 percent, including 9 for 30 from 3-point range. But they went 17 for 21 at the free-throw line, while Illinois went 8 for 12.
Miami was up 37-24 at halftime for its largest lead, but Illinois scored the first 10 points of the second half. The Illini cut the deficit to 48-46 but could get no closer.
Three-pointers by Omar Sherman — his only basket — and Rodriguez helped the Hurricanes regain their cushion. They sealed the win by sinking five of six free throws in the final minutes, and in the closing seconds the crowd of 6,086 chanted, “A-C-C! A-C-C!”
Miami’s program is historically attendance-challenged, and Larranaga and his players had lobbied students to turn out for the game.
“It definitely felt like a basketball school,” McClellan said. “The students came out and supported us and we thank them for that. We’d like to have them come out every game like that. That was a big boost for us. It gave us energy and positive things to feed off.”
Illinois: Rice continued his streak of scoring at least 14 points in every game this season.
Miami: The Hurricanes went 22 for 58 after shooting better than 50 percent in each of the past four games.
HITTING THE BOARDS
The 6-foot-2 Burnett had eight rebounds in 24 minutes. “If you want to play, you’ve got to rebound,” he said. “We lift weights for a reason. I was able to use my strength.”
Illinois hosts American on Saturday.
Miami hosts Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday.