After four straight victories, including a 117-65 victory last time out against Lindenwood, Illinois closes out its five-game homestand on Monday evening as the Illini tip off the 21st annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Miami. This is only the second true road game of the season for the Hurricanes, but they come in off two straight losses in the Charleston Classic.
For the Hurricanes, it's not just that they lost, but how they lost, suffering consecutive setbacks by 20-plus points for the first time in the regular season under ninth-year coach Jim Larranaga as they were routed by Florida (78-58) and Connecticut (80-55). The offense, which scored at least 74 points in each of the first five games, was held below 60 in both setbacks, with turnovers (26 combined in the two games) and a lack of success at the free-throw line (6-of-13) partly to blame. That inability to light up the scoreboard could prove troublesome against an Illinois squad that ranks third in the nation in scoring (88.3) after eclipsing the century mark the last two games, but Miami brings an increased level of competition and an opportunity for the Illini to prove themselves. "The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is a special event," Illinois head coach Brad Underwood told reporters. "It's one of those things -- a lot of bragging rights, something that's looked back upon a lot as the season goes on."
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT MIAMI (4-3): Senior guard Dejan Vasiljevic, the team's leading scorer (13.9 ppg), topped the Hurricanes in scoring against UConn but he only had 11 points, followed closely by redshirt junior center Rodney Miller Jr., who had 10 for his second-highest career total. Guard Chris Lykes managed just seven points, the first time since March 5 that he failed to score in double figures, snapping a nine-game string, while Kameron McGusty, who entered the UConn game averaging 14.7 points per game, was limited to just five. Miami has allowed opponents to hit at least 50 percent of their shots in both halves of all three defeats this season, a trend that did not occur in any of its four wins.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (6-1): The Illini are dominating the boards as they lead the nation in rebounding margin (plus-18.6) and rank third in total rebounds per game (45.43), a huge edge against a Miami team that hasn't hit 30 rebounds in any of the last three games. Illinois has three players - sophomore Ayo Dosunmu (16.3), freshman Kofi Cockburn (15.3) and senior Andres Feliz (15.3) - averaging at least 15 points per game and Illinois has been on fire from the floor, hitting 61.9 percent of its shots against Lindenwood after nailing 64.3 percent the prior outing against Hampton. Cockburn fell just short of a double-double with 10 points and eight rebounds against Lindenwood and is averaging a double-double for the season as he also ranks seventh in the nation with 12 rebounds per game.
1. Miami is 2-1 all-time against Illinois, with the Hurricanes defeating the Illini 70-61 in the last meeting - a Big Ten/ACC Challenge battle exactly five years prior to this one (Dec. 2, 2014).
2. Illinois broke a school mark for points in back-to-back games with 237 combined against Hampton and Lindenwood.
3. Larranaga needs one more win to reach 650 for his 36-year career as a head coach.
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