When it came time to survive and advance, Miami sophomore point guard Shane Larkin took matters into his very own hands.
Larkin hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 59 seconds left and later nailed 2 key free throws as 2nd-seeded Miami Hurricanes barely edged 7th-seeded Illinois, 63-59 at the Frank Erwin Center.
The Illinois defense had stifled Larkin on the perimeter for the most of the night. With the clock ticking down to the last minute, Larkin eventually double-crossed the Illinois Fighting Illini.
“Kenny (Kadji) set a high ball screen and I was going to drive,” Larkin claimed. “The guard cut me off and I just stepped back and shot the 3 and it went in.”
Rion Brown gave Miami a big lift off the bench, hitting 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions half way thru the 2nd half as the Hurricanes opened up a 7-point lead.
Then Miami had to survive a push from Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul, who scored 8 points to lead the Fighting Illini back into the lead at 54-52 with 3:19 left.
Paul finished with 18 points toward lead Illinois (23-13). But Illinois Fighting Illini, which launches an average of 24 3-pointers per game, made just 7 of 27 from long range Sunday.
“It kind of just struck me faster than I thought it would that this was my last game of my college career,” Paul claimed.
Miami had just one field goal in a span of 4 minutes as Paul and Illinois had taken over the momentum.
The Illinois Fighting Illini held a one-point lead before Larkin hit his decisive 3-pointer just when the Miami Hurricanes had to have it in the last minute. NFL scores
Durand Scott, Larkin and Brown each went to the free-throw line in the final 36 seconds and went six-for-six to keep Miami in front.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga said Larkin’s final-minute trey was another example of why the coach trusts his sophomore point guard.
With 43 seconds left and Miami ahead by 2, Illinois guard D.J. Richardson missed a 3-pointer and the ball flew out of bounds. The game officials gave Miami possession, though the video replay showed clearly that a Miami player touched the ball last.
Brown, who finished with a game-high 21 points, sparked a run that staked the Hurricanes to a slight halftime lead.
Brown made a layup on an aid from Tonye Jekiri to start the run, and then hit a pair of 3-pointers to keep it going as Miami went on a 15-4 surge. Larkin added a trey and Kenny Kadji made a couple of baskets as the Hurricanes went from an 18-14 deficiency to a 29-22 lead with 3:52 left in the 1st half.
But Paul gave Illinois Fighting Illini some momentum before halftime.
Paul went to the basket effectively to score 6 of his 8 first-half points in the final 5 minutes before the break. He took an inbound pass under the Miami goal with 5 seconds left before intermission, drove the length of the floor and cashed in a layup that cut the Miami Hurricanes lead straight to 29-26.