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Illini leads 15 years ahead, but ends up losing to Cincinnati at 20 – CBS Chicago

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) –Cincinnati coach Wes Miller had no idea who he was watching from the start against Illinois on Monday night.

Not because he’s in his first year with the Bearcats, either.

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“We weren’t playing our defensive principles. We were not vigilant. We weren’t offensive, ”Miller said.

It took two media downtime for the Bearcats to rediscover themselves. And when they did, they mounted a big load in the first half to take a superb halftime lead, then steadily moved away from the No.14 Illini for a 71-51 win that pushed them into the Hall of Fame Classic Championship game.

“Sometimes you’re going to get your butt kicked, that’s part of college basketball,” Miller said. “I don’t like it, but it’s part of it, and if we were to get our butt kicked, let’s do it our way. And I thought our guys really adjusted and we started playing like we did the first four games of the year.

Mike Saunders Jr. scored 20 points and Jeremiah Davenport added 19 to lead the Bearcats (5-0), who went 17 of 20 from the foul line and won the battle of the boards against the taller Illini (2 -2) inside T- Mobile Center.

This earned the right to play the No. 13 winner from Arkansas and Kansas State for the tournament title.

“It shows what we can do,” Davenport said. “As a group we just have to go out every night and perform what we can do at the highest level. You saw him tonight.

Kofi Cockburn, who was suspended for the first three games of the season for breaking NCAA rules, had 18 points and seven rebounds for the Fighting Illini (2-2). Andre Curbelo added 12 points on 4 of 12 shots with five turnovers.

“We got off to a good start, but we give Cincinnati a lot of credit. They played harder than us which is very unacceptable to me, said Illini coach Brad Underwood. “It was the most physical team. And I give them a lot of credit.

Indeed, the Illini looked like they were about to blast the Bearcats in the first 10 minutes.

Cockburn played a big part in it.

Jamaica’s 7-foot, 275-pound center made his way through six straight runs to open the game, and the Illini took a 19-4 lead before the Bearcats seemed to realize the game had begin. At one point, Cockburn had dominated Cincinnati 12-8 as the Illini took a 23-8 advantage midway through the first half.

That’s when Miller made some subtle tweaks that got them on the right track.

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They slowed Cockburn with physical doubles in the post, and they started jumping the passing lanes, and at one point the Bearcats held Illinois scoreless on the field for nearly seven minutes. They rebuilt their own 14-1 streak over the streak, and David DeJulius delivered a few free kicks just before half-time to give Cincinnati a 34-31 lead.

The fall of the Illini lasted a good part of the second half.

Davenport punched a 3 point out of the locker room and Illinois missed 10 straight field goal attempts at one point, as the Bearcats’ superb run finally reached 22-5 to start the second half .

That’s when Underwood ripped the wrapper off with a piece of gum.

Maybe it was an antacid.

The country’s top-ranked defense in the first two weeks of the season suddenly struggled to protect the Bearcats on the perimeter. And regardless if Cockburn was out of the lineup, the Illini struggled to chase deep rebounds, which gave Cincinnati second and third chances on several trips down the field.

That was enough to send the Bearcats to their first victory against a ranked team since their victory over Tennessee on December 18, 2019.

“We haven’t arrived, guys,” Miller said. “It was a good night, I’m excited, but we haven’t made it or crossed the finish line.”

Take it away

Illinois were two different teams the first 10 minutes and the last 30. Cockburn was aggressive going for the basket, and Curbelo and the rest of Illini’s guards took care of the ball early on. But once the midfield was bogged down, Illinois lost all semblance of attacking rhythm. He finished 3 of 22 of 3 and shot 28% from the field overall.

Cincinnati still haven’t played from behind in the second half this season. But the way the Bearcats handled the Illini was far more impressive than the early wins over Evansville, Georgia, Alabama A&M and Presbyterian. They only returned the ball 11 times while preventing Illinois from scoring a single point in transition.


The Bearcats qualified for the title game on Tuesday night. The Illini will play for third place.

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