CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Illinois cracked the Top 25 rankings on Monday.
By late Tuesday night, the Illini appeared to be on their way out.
Their perfect record, although very early in the season, was gone.
Those were the repercussions for No. 24 Illinois after a 70-61 loss to No. 15 Miami (Fla.) in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at the BankUnited Center.
“Our effort was good,” Illinois coach John Groce said, “but our execution was awful.”
Illinois (6-1) was led by guard Rayvonte Rice, who scored 22 points. However, the Illini, who entered the game ranked fourth in the nation with an average of 90 points per game, did not get much in the way of secondary scoring.
The team posted its lowest point total of the season and had just one other player in double figures, guard Malcolm Hill with 13 points.
Point guard Ahmad Starks’ performance was indicative of how things went for Illinois. He made his first shot — a 3-pointer that gave Illinois its only lead of the game at 3-0. After that, Starks fired blanks.
Starks and fellow guard Aaron Crosby each shot 1-for-10 from the floor. As a team, Illinois shot 33.3 percent from the floor and 23.3 percent on 3-pointers (seven of 30).
“If you would have told me that the rebound margin was even, we turn the ball over seven times, hold them to 38 percent (shooting) from the field, 30 percent from 3-(point range), I probably would have told you we won,” Groce said.
“Why didn’t we? I think they guarded us really well. I thought our offense was out of character. One assist on nine field goals in the first half — that’s not how we play.”
Miami (8-0) was led by reserve guard Deandre Burnett, who scored a season-high 19 points.
“Give Miami credit — they were hard to guard,” Groce said. “They use four guards at a time and spread the floor.
“I know Burnett is talented. I know he is wired to score, and we certainly knew that coming in, but I thought he was a real X factor in the game.”
Starting guards Angel Rodriguez (nine points, five assists) and Sheldon McClellan (14 points), who are considered Miami’s top two players, were mostly held in check.
However, Illinois failed to stop lesser-known players such as Burnett and guard Manu Lecomte (15 points).
Illinois came out of the halftime break on a 10-0 run and eventually cut Miami’s lead to 48-46. The Hurricanes extended the margin again and had at least an eight-point lead in the final minute.
Illinois got off to a slow start, falling behind 25-15 before cutting Miami’s lead to five. The Hurricanes then went on another run and closed the first half with a 37-24 lead.
The biggest problem for the Illini was shooting. Illinois made just 25 percent of its first-half shots from the floor, including three of 17 3-point tries (17.6 percent). Even free throws were an issue (three of six before the break).
Things might have been really bad for Illinois had it not been for Rice, who made four of eight first-half shots, including two of five 3-point tries, and had 11 points prior to halftime.
NOTES: Illinois had a 7-0 record last season before losing at Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. … The Illini have not been home much lately. They arrived home from Las Vegas on Saturday night and flew to Miami on Monday afternoon. Miami was Illinois’ third straight game away from home. … The Hurricanes never previously were ranked this high this early in the season. … Each team started three transfers: Miami’s PG Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State), SG Sheldon McClellan (Texas) and F Joe Thomas (Niagara), and Illinois’ G Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), G Aaron Crosby (Seton Hall) and G Rayvonte Rice (Drake). … Illinois returns home to play host to American on Saturday.
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