In a game where Miami’s veteran guards showed their skill and packed the box score, it was a moment with less than three seconds to play that sealed an excruciating win for the Hurricanes.
Chris Lykes stood his ground just outside the paint as Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu attempted to drive in for the go-ahead basket with a single point separating the Canes from their opponents. Already with four fouls, Lykes took a charge that allowed UM (5-3) to hold on after the ensuing inbound and free throw, 81-79.
It was the final chapter in what could've been a very different ending at the State Farm Center.
It almost played out as two separate games, as Miami’s first half lead was gradually chipped down to the single point that held but only just.
The Hurricanes entered halftime with a 50-31 lead, after leading by as much as 27 with 4:33 to play in the half. UM made precisely two-thirds of their shots from the field before halftime, while also going 6-12 from beyond the three-point line.
Two of Jim Larrañaga’s players were already in double figures as the teams went to the locker room, with Lykes out to 18 points and Sam Waardenburg to 10. DJ Vasiljevic and Kameron McGusty added nine points each as well before the break, even as Illinois implemented a 2-3 zone defense to attempt to limit the Hurricanes’ barrage.
Four of Miami’s players would end up with at least 10 points, with Lykes’ 28 leading the way despite spending some time on the bench in the second half due to foul trouble. Vasiljevic was 6-9 from three-point range on his way to 20 points, McGusty scored 13 while Waaardenburg finished with 12, along with a team-high eight rebounds.
The second half became a battle not to pull away like Larrañaga may have hoped for, but to simply get out of Champaign in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
After UM out-rebounded UI-IC 14-13 before the intermission, the Illini had a 19-9 advantage on the boards in the game’s final 20 minutes. The Canes were -4 in turnover differential in the second half after being +6 in the opening period, and allowed Illinois to shoot 61% from after the break compared to just 44% in the first half.
Up by as much as 22 with with 16:18 remaining, three separate scoring runs by the home team made up the bulk of Illinois’ comeback.
A 10-2 IU-IC run over less than two minutes trimmed the margin to 14 with just under 14 minutes on the clock, and they continued to apply pressure with a 16-2 run from just after the 11 minute mark to right before the five minute mark.
An 8-0 swing in the final three minutes would set up Lykes’ defensive stand and UM’s win as the clock finally expired.
The Canes are off for 11 days to take final exams, but return to action at the Watsco Center on December 14 against Alabama A&M.