‘I was ready’: Plummer explodes in second half, hits game-winning free throws to send Illinois men’s basketball to second round of NCAA tournament

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Graduate student guard Alfonso Plummer attempts a free throw during the second half of Illinois’ 54-53 win over Chattanooga in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday. Plummer hit the game-winning free throws and scored 13 second-half points to send the Illini into the second round and avoid an upset.

By Jackson Janes, Staff Writer

Graduate student guard Alfonso Plummer is known for his scoring abilities. Averaging 14.8 points, the second-best mark on the team, the Puerto Rico native has stepped into a big role in his first season in Champaign after transferring from Utah.

In the first half of No. 4 Illinois’ win over No. 13 Chattanooga at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, the veteran guard struggled, attempting just three shots and scoring two points. He also took just one 3-pointer, which he missed, in the opening 20 minutes of play.

A switch flipped in the second half, though. Plummer went 4-9 from the field and made three of his seven trey attempts, finishing the night as the only Illini to connect from deep.

Despite scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half, Plummer says he did not feel any different coming out of halftime.

“I feel the same,” Plummer said. “I’m just playing with confidence. Always working out on my shots. I feel like every time I shoot, I feel like it’s gonna go in. So I just play with confidence. And I was ready for my moment, and it came.”

With Illinois trailing by 11 with 18 minutes to play, Plummer capped off a 10-0 Illini run over the next seven minutes with two triples. The 3-pointers were the team’s first of the night, as it missed its previous nine attempts.

His third triple came just under six minutes later after he had missed two 3-point attempts and hit a deep 2-point jumper.

His biggest contribution of the night, though, came with under 30 seconds to play.

After Chattanooga sophomore guard Malachi Smith hit two free throws to give the Mocs a one-point advantage, the Illini had the ball and needed to get some offense going, something that was not flowing for most of the game.

With 16 seconds to play, Plummer took a handoff from fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier, drove between two defenders before going up to attempt a floater in the paint.

Though his shot did not fall, he was fouled with 12 seconds to play. An 87.8% free-throw shooter, Plummer knocked down both attempts to give the Illini a lead for the second time, both of which came with less than one minute to play.

Illinois led for just 25 seconds on Friday, but it held the advantage when it mattered most: when the final buzzer sounded and the clock hit zero.

“I feel like I was working out with (assistant coach Tim Anderson) a lot of days before the tournament,” Plummer said. “So I feel like I was ready for the moment, but I feel like the energy was bad in the beginning. That’s like you can see. 

“But the next game we just gotta pick it up in the beginning, I feel it’s going to be way better.”

 

@JacksonJanes3

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