Men’s basketball falls in 54-53 Heartbreaker to Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament

 

PITTSBURGH, PA (March 18) — The 13thth-seeded Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team lost a heartbreaking 54-53 decision to fourth-seeded Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Friday night.

After the loss, Chattanooga is knocked out of the NCAA Tournament and ends the season 27-8 overall. Illinois advance to the second round and improve to 23-9. The loss marked the first for the Mocs against Illini on three attempts.

Chattanooga took an early lead and held it for over 38 and a half minutes during the competition before Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn turned on a put-back with 45 seconds left to put the team in orange with 52-51. Malachi Smith saw a potential game-winning shot against the buzzer strike from the back iron before the last buzzer sounded.

“So tough, tough way to go out, of course. The last match will always be difficult. But under those circumstances I think it was – I think it was even tougher for our older guys and just for our group together, welded group “, said the head coach Lamont Paris.

“I’ve been doing this for 26 years. This is my favorite group, it may not be that close, but this is a great group.”

HOW IT HAPPENED
Chattanooga drove out with an early lead of 12-3 at the first media timeout (15:39) after Josh Ayeni and KC Hankton connected on threes while the team started five of nine from the field. The Mocs continued to lead, 16-6, before switching baskets to hold a 20-10 lead at the 7:45 mark in the first half.

After UTC took a 27-16 lead, Illinois responded with a 9-0 run to pull within two, 27-25, before the Mocs ended the half with six of the final 10 points to take a 33-29 lead at the break. Chattanooga went 13 out of 35 (37.1%) from the floor in the initial 20 while Illini got 43.5% (10 out of 23) including 0 out of 5 (0.0%) from the deep.

The Mocs opened the second half on a 7-0 run to build a 40-29 lead before Illini responded with a 10-0 run to pull within one, 40-39 (11:24). UTC stretched it back to five, 48-43, at one Avery Diggs second chance setup with 7:28 left in the competition.

After Illini came within two, Grant Ledford knocked down a decisive third with 4:34 on the board to make it 51-46 and forced a timeout from the home bench. Six straight Illinois points gave them their first lead of the game, 52-51, with only 45 seconds left.

Smith came back to the offensive end and made a shooting error with 32 ticks left before knocking down both freebies to put UTC back in the front, 53-52. Illini made two free throws at the other end after Alfonso Plummer made contact to change the lead again, 54-53 with 12 seconds. Smith’s potential game winner did not fall when Illinois secured its place in the second round.

TASKS – Chattanooga (27-8) – Illinois (23-9)

 

SERIES – Chattanooga is now 2-1 through the ages against Illinois.

NOTES TO KNOW
– 27 wins are the most since the school record 29 in 2015-16 … 27 or more victories in four seasons including 27-5 in the NCAA DII National Championship season 1976-77 and the 1981-82 team 27-4 ended up losing by one , 62-61, against Big Ten Champs Minnesota in the NCAA second round.

– 2,500th game of all time … 1,385-1,115 in season no. 103 … 45th campaign as a DI program with an 839-546 ledger.

– +2 return margin (43-41) including 16 on the offensive boards compared to nine for Illinois … 15-14 advantages in turnover points.

– Despite the presence of Kofi Cockburn, the Mocs led 30-28 on points in the paint … turnovers were the key to Chattanooga going +9 (18-9) in points from turnovers with +4 margin (10-14).

Check out all the notes on the link above.

KITTERBAR
“I will think of my brothers, I will think of the coaching staff, and I will think of the community, just about everything involved in basketball – with the basketball and the love they have shown me.” – Silvio De Sousa about what he will remember about Chattanooga.

Check out all the quotes at the link above.

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