The Illinois Fighting Illini certainly had to fight in the Round of 64, as they found a way to sneak past Chattanooga to win.
The Illinois Fighting Illini earned the fourth seed in the South Region of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Their opponents for the Round of 64 were the No. 13 Chattanooga Mocs. Certainly, it would be a night without drama, right?
Well, Illinois did advance to the second round with a 54-53 victory over Chattanooga. But, that was the only time they led in the entire game. To be specific, the Fighting Illini only led for the final 25 seconds of the game.
College basketball media reacted to Illinois sneaking past Chattanooga to advance to the Round of 32 for the second consecutive year.
College basketball media reacts to Illinois surviving Chattanooga
Give credit where credit is due to Chattanooga, who led for the first 39:35 of the game. But, what is the most important is who leads after the final buzzer sounds.
The Mocs did have the final possession of the game. Malachi Smith drove to the basket and attempted a layup, but it was blocked by Coleman Hawkins. Smith collected the rebound and attempted a two-point jump shot, but the ball bounced off the inside of the rim and back onto the court, allowing Illinois to close out the game.
Smith led the way for the Mocs, as he scored 14 points while shooting 5-of-21 from the field. He also recorded eight rebounds and three steals.
Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn secured a double-double by scoring 17 points (6-for-12 from field, 5-for-10 from free throw line) and grabbing 12 rebounds.
After this dramatic victory, Illinois will set its focus on the winner of No. 5 Houston and No. 12 UAB. The Round of 32 matchup will take place on Sunday, March 20.
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