Kansas City, MO – Winning the hard way, is one way to describe Illinois’ first round win in the NCAA tournament. Head Coach John Groce picked up a tournament win in his first try as the leader of the Illini Nation, but it wasn’t easy. Groce is 4 & 2 coaching in the ‘Big Dance.’
Illinois led by 16 points, but had to rally to defeat Colorado 57 to 49. The Fighting Illini made only three baskets in the second half and definitely wouldn’t have received ‘two thumbs up’ from deceased film critic Roger Ebert, an Illinois alum, but they did earn a trip to Sunday’s third round of this year’s national championship tournament.
Illinois received clutch three-point baskets and double figure scoring from Brandon Paul (17) and D.J. Richardson (14). Tracy Abrams contributed 13 points. St. Louisian Tyler Griffey (Lafayette High School) added 5. Now 22 & 12 they will battle Atlantic Coast Conference champion Miami (27-6) on Sunday.
It’s been an erratic season for the Illini, but Groce who took an unlikely Ohio University team to the ‘sweet sixteen’ last season, knows how to win post season games and coax his team through tough stretches like the one in Friday’s game when they allowed Colorado to go on a 21 point run.