After a series of lackluster opponents, the Illini (6-2) came into Monday looking to step up their play against an ACC team. The game was hard fought, with the Illini erasing an enormous first-half deficit to put themselves in position to win but ultimately fell short, losing 81-79.
The game could not have started any worse for the Illini who found themselves down 27 in the first half to the Hurricanes. Miami (5-3) was red hot from the field and the Illini had no answer.
“Our defense was very, very poor” head coach Brad Underwood said. “This is on me. I did a very poor job in getting our guys ready.”
The Hurricanes shot 66 percent from the field in the first half and 50 percent from deep. Junior guard Chris Lykes shot 7-for-9 and had 18 points at the break.
As hot as the Hurricanes were in the first half, the Illini nearly matched that in the second; shooting 60 percent from the field and 33 percent from three.
Lykes, who had torched the Illini in the first half, rode the bench with foul trouble for most of the second. His absence allowed the Illini to mount a comeback that went as far as them coming within a point before an offensive foul shattered Illini’s hopes.
As well as Illinois played in the second half, there are no moral victories.
“Had we been able to finish off that last play, we’re talking about the biggest comeback in school history. But we’re not” Underwood said.
“Effort, effort, effort, effort,” he continued. “We can play with anybody I don’t doubt that for a second.”
The Illini were led by freshman center Kofi Cockburn who had 23 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
The Illini guard trio of Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu and Andres Feliz all hit double figures with 14, 12 and 11 respectively. Sophomore guard Alan Griffin added 8 points and hit two threes off the bench.
Both Griffin and Da’Monte Williams continue to put in quality minutes for the Illini off the bench and their contributions have not gone unnoticed.
“They were great, they’ve been great,” Underwood said. “Both those guys [are contributing] at a really high level and that’s got to continue. I’m very happy with them.”
The Hurricanes were led by Lykes, who finished the game with 28 points. Senior DJ Vesiljevic added 20 points and hit six threes. Two more Hurricanes hit double figures as well.
The Illini look to right the ship on Saturday on the road when they face No. 3 Maryland to open Big Ten play.