Cold shooting dooms Illinois basketball at Miami

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Cold shooting dooms Illinois basketball at Miami

Illinois played well for roughly three minutes of Tuesday’s 70-61 loss to Miami.

The Illini came out of halftime facing a 37-24 deficit and went on a 10-0 run to open the half, cutting Miami’s lead to three in quick fashion. Later in the half, once the Hurricanes opened up another 10-point lead, Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn went on a personal 8-0 run to bring his team within two, at 48-46.

Other than those three minutes, Illinois was dismantled by Miami’s guard-heavy offense. Too often, the Illini defense was a day late and a dollar short, as it gave up numerous easy buckets to the Hurricanes’ guards and bigs alike.

On the offensive end, Illinois was dysfunctional from the start. Poor shot selection, missed free throws and quick threes dug a hole going into half that was ultimately too deep for the Illini to overcome.

Credit Miami for playing tough and not allowing Illinois to gain too much momentum when it made its runs. Every time the Illini were beat on the door during their multiple second half comebacks, the Canes kept them at arm’s length with timely shooting and offensive rebounding.

Aside from Illinois’ off-night, the most frustrating aspect of the game for Illini fans has to be the play of Miami’s Deandre Burnett. The redshirt freshman scored 19 points off the bench on 7-of-16 shooting, taking the pressure off star guard Angel Hernandez.

Sound familiar? A relatively unknown Miami guard coming off the bench to torch Illinois? It should. In the 2013 NCAA tournament, Rion Brown came off the bench to score 21 points and help bounce the Illini from the Big Dance.

Burnett gave me flashbacks of Brown on Tuesday, as Illinois simply didn’t have an answer for Burnett, Sheldon McClellan (14 points) and Manu Lecomte (15 points) all at once. Even when those three were off shooting-wise, it seemed like Canes center Tonye Jeriki was there to grab an offensive rebound. Jeriki finished with nine boards.

The first half for Illinois started like Friday’s Baylor game, when cold shooting stunted the Illini’s offensive output. Miami is superior to Baylor, and didn’t let the Illini hang around close enough in the first half. To beat talented teams like Miami, Illinois will simply have to shoot better from the start.

Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill carried the Illini offense once again with 35 combined points, but the Illini went 7-of-30 from beyond the arc. That won’t cut it. Starting guards Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby were 2-for-20 combined from the field, and that won’t get it done as the season goes on.

The first loss of the season is always tough. But this loss needs to be put in perspective. Illinois lost to the No. 15-ranked team in the nation, on the road, by nine points. That’s not exactly a shocking outcome, even with the Illini visiting Miami as the No. 24 ranked team in the country. This loss is a bump in the road for Illinois head coach John Groce and his squad, not a disaster. If the Illini consistently shoot poorly like they have in their last two matchups against Baylor and Miami, then Illini fans can start to worry.

Illinois has a chance to get its feet under it with a Saturday matchup against American, which should be an easy victory. And next Tuesday, will be an opportunity to make everyone forget this loss ever happened, as a game with No. 10 Villanova looms.

Groce will go back to the drawing board, prepare his team in practice and have it ready for these next two games in seven days.

There’s no question the Illini got punched in the mouth Tuesday, and we’ll see how they respond.

Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aroux94.