3-2-1 RECAP: Swept Away By A Hurricane - Illini lose 81-79 To Miami

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The choices for Miami’s offense couldn’t be wrong.

Behind door number one was a wide-open 3-point shot and behind door number two was a wide-open layup. The pedestrian Illinois defensive effort never created a door number three until it was much too late.

Illinois allowed Miami to convert on 18 of its first 23 field goals to build a 27-point first-half lead and eventually survived for an 82-79 win in front of a stunned and then mostly frustrated State Farm Center crowd Monday night.

“We wanted there to be very few rebounds so we knew we had to make shots,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We wanted to keep the ball in the middle of the floor and we told (point guard) Chris Lykes not to pick up his dribble.” 

The lack of execution on the defensive end against a Miami team that came into the contest on a two-game losing streak is arguably the worst 30 minutes of basketball in the two-and-a-half-year Brad Underwood era.

The Illini (6-2) were simply unable to contain 5-foot-7 guard Chris Lykes as the second-leading returning scorer in the Atlantic Coast Conference finished with a career-high 28 points against a myriad of Illinois perimeter defenders. During a 20-2 Miami run that saw the Hurricanes pushed its lead out to 35-11 just 11 minutes into the game, Underwood attempted to use three first-half timeouts to stem the momentum before realizing it was nearly a game-long malaise.

"We didn’t go as hard as we can," Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili said. "You can always go harder and harder and we didn't go as hard as we could. That's on our part. That's the players' part is to come ready every day."

The Illinois offense, which shot 52.8 percent and committed just two second-half turnovers, was led by Kofi Cockburn’s career-high 23 points.

This was the game Illinois desperately needed as the Illini will now open Big Ten play Saturday against No. 3 Maryland before hosting No. 5 Michigan next week.

Here are three major takeaways from this win for the Illini:

1) Arguably the worst defensive effort of the Brad Underwood era at Illinois

In its last three games, Miami shot 46, 41 and 44 percent from the field. The Hurricanes (5-3) had never topped 47 percent through seven games this season. Monday night in a hostile road environment, its first of the season, they shot 59.3 percent. Illinois had absolutely had no answer for Lykes who had his season-high in points by the halftime horn. Underwood tried Trent Frazier, Andres Feliz and Ayo Dosunmu on the point guard and the answer was always the same: an open layup, jumper for him or an open 3-pointer for his teammates. Illinois has now played two Power 5 Conference opponents (Arizona and Miami) and been thoroughly dominated in both games with the defensive effort and ability to take care of the basketball called severely into question. Not the best formula when you’re traveling to No. 3 Maryland to open Big Ten Conference play Saturday and return home next week to welcome No. 5 Michigan.

2) Where was Ayo Dosunmu?

Underwood has constantly said that he’s never worried about the sophomore guard and when the bright lights are shining, he’ll perform. This was a nationally-televised contest and the projected NBA Draft pick had 12 points on just 14 shot attempts in 36 minutes. When the 6-foot-5 guard didn’t look lost on defense, he was constantly standing in a corner with no need for Miami to throw defenders his way for about 35 minutes of the contest. With a chance to win the game after a defensive stop, Dosunmu seemingly forgot time and sequence by walking the ball up the floor with less than 20 seconds left. The result was a hero ball possession where he was eventually whistled for a charge on a drive to the basket. With games against Maryland and Michigan next on the schedule, the Chicago guard will have more opportunities to shine but once again against a Power 5 Conference opponent, he wasn’t nearly the best guard on the floor.

3) Hard to tell if Kofi Cockburn was negated or Illinois simply didn’t find him enough

At one point, the freshman center was screaming at both Trent Frazier and Alan Griffin to feed him the ball in the post but Illinois’ guard continued to just dribble the ball around the perimeter. Cockburn eventually took it upon himself to assert his offensive aggressiveness in a high-low game with Bezhanishvili. The Jamaican native finished with 23 points and didn’t miss on his first eight field goal attempts but Illinois’ guard play simply didn’t target the 280-pounder nearly enough to negate the hot shooting by the Hurricanes on the other end. 

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