Illinois comes up short, losing 63-59 to Miami

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 25, 2013
Illinois senior Brandon Paul took one last 3-pointer. When the ball bounced off the rim as time ran out, Paul put his head down and stared at the floor. After halfheartedly shaking hands with the victorious Miami players, Paul pulled his Illini jersey over his head as he walked off the court. Miami got Shane Larkin's go-ahead 3-pointer with a minute left and a close call after that - getting a ball that appeared to ricochet off the hands of Hurricanes post player Kenny Kadji - for a 63-59 victory over the Illini on Sunday night to the NCAA round of 16. ''You saw the same video I did,'' Illinois coach John Groce said. He added, ''hard game to officiate ... 50-50 calls are hard sometimes.'' In postgame news conference, Groce cut off any questions about the play to his players. ''When the clock hit zero, it kind of just hit me faster than I thought it would that that was the last game of my college career,'' Paul said. ''We made plays and it put us in position to be successful. Miami played a great game and they never gave up and they're a good team.'' On the late 3, Larkin had other ideas against a suffocating Illinois defense. He was cut off when he tried to drive to the basket. ''I just stepped back and shot the 3, and it went in,'' Larkin said. It was after Larkin's first field goal in about 9 1/2 minutes that D.J. Richardson, the other shooting senior guard for the Illini, missed a 3-pointer. In the fight for the rebound was the ball that looked like it hit Kadji's extended hand. But the Hurricanes kept the ball, and Durand Scott made two free throws after that. ''I mean, I don't know. It was so many hands, you know. I don't know who touched it last,'' Kadji said while seemingly trying to suppress a smile. ''Everybody was getting out there and there was a couple of hands. So I really don't know.'' Miami (29-6), the No. 2 seed, advanced to play Marquette (25-8) in Washington D.C. on Thursday night. Larkin, the only non-senior starter for Miami and the ACC player of the year, finished with 17 points. Rion Brown had 21 with five 3s for the Hurricanes. Kadji added 10 points and eight rebounds. Paul had 18 points for No. 7 seed Illinois (23-13), which hasn't been the round of 16 since being national runner-ups in 2005. Groce was in the round of 16 as coach of mid-major Ohio last March. Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffin had 12 points each for Illinois. Griffin had four 3s. Brown and Larkin both had two free throws in the final 16 seconds, between a tip-in by Egwu. Before Larkin's go-ahead 3, he hadn't scored since 10:29 was left in the game. He put Miami up 38-37 when he drove to the basket, cradled the ball to his side with his arm while getting fouled and then made the shot. He missed the free throw, but the Hurricanes got the rebound and Scott drove for a one-handed dunk. Less than 2 minutes later, the lead was 46-39 after Brown's 3 from the right corner in front of the Miami bench that sent his teammates and the Hurricanes fans nearby in a frenzy. Larranaga, who took mid-major George Mason to the 2006 NCAA Final Four, won 20 games in his first season at Miami. That wasn't enough to get the Hurricanes in the NCAA tournament. They left no doubt this year after winning the ACC regular-season and tournament championships. And they already have five wins more than ever before. Just before that Miami spurt, the Illini had grabbed their first lead since midway through the first half when Tracy Abrams drove for a one-handed slam after a wild sequence that started when he missed a 3-pointer. After the long-range miss that led to a long rebound, Richardson couldn't get the ball while several Miami players chased it as well. But one of the Hurricanes swiped the ball right to Richardson, who got the ball to Abrams, who drove through an open gap for the emphatic basket that put Illinois up 35-34 with 12 1/2 minutes left. The Illini missed six 3s in a row in the second half. But, as usual, they kept shooting them and Paul got them out of that slump with consecutive long-range makes. His 3 from the right wing with 6 1/2 minutes left got the Illinois within 48-45, then after Kenny Kadji's short hook for Miami, Paul made another 3-pointer. They went ahead when Paul drove for a dunk that broke a 52-all tie with 3:23 left. Scott made a layup with just under 2 minutes for Miami, before Abrams made the first of two free throw attempts for a 55-54 lead that was gone on Larkin's step-back 3. In its tournament opener Friday night, Illinois blew a 16-point halftime lead after Colorado's 21-0 run. And the Illini made only three field goals in the second half of that game, but that included consecutive 3s by Richardson and Paul to regain the lead for good. ''We battled. I asked them to play with courage. They played with a high level of courage,'' Groce said. ''Their poise was tremendous. They were resilient.''
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