Not that it mattered. The Fighting Illini capped a perfect trip to the Hawaiian islands, winning for the fourth time in six days to claim the program's first EA Sports Maui Invitational championship with a 78-61 victory over Butler on Wednesday at the Lahaina Civic Center. For the first time in recent memory, the tournament finale featured two unranked teams that didn't receive a single vote in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. Nonetheless, Illinois took home the trophy in its second appearance in the tournament, and it improved to 6-0 under first-year coach John Groce. "We feel extremely privileged and honored to win such a prestigious tournament," Groce said. "I carried the trophy with the guys up to the locker room and you see the names on the trophy and it really puts it into perspective." After surviving a 78-77 overtime victory over Hawaii on Oahu on Friday, Illinois was never seriously threatened, winning its next three games by at least 17 points. Butler (3-2) tried to make a run at Illinois, but every time the lead reached single digits, Illinois would extend it again. "Not a lot of people liked us coming over and playing Hawaii beforehand, but I thought it really helped us," said Tyler Griffey, who hit four of Illinois' 10 3-pointers. The Bulldogs lost in Hawaii for the first time since the championship game of the 2002 Rainbow Classic. Butler won the Diamond Head Classic on Oahu in 2010. Brandon Paul again led the Illini offensively Wednesday, finishing with 20 points and four assists and was named most valuable player in the tourney. Paul is averaging nearly 20 points a game and is thriving in Groce's new offensive system. "The offense gives us chances to make baskets," Paul said. "We pretty much have the green light and the offense works with the type of players we have on the team." Butler coach Brad Stevens agreed. "Very rarely when you have a new coach come in do the pieces fit that system this well," Stevens said. "It is so perfect with the way John likes to play. ... Anybody that thinks that's a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team I would argue with." Illinois' Tracy Abrams scored 17 points, Griffey went 4-for-5 from 3-point range and scored 14 points, and D.J. Richardson added 14 points and nine rebounds. Butler senior Rotnei Clarke finished with a game-high 27 points. He singlehandedly kept the Bulldogs in the game with 16 points in the first half, accounting for more than half of Butler's offense. Excluding Clarke, Butler shot just 4-for-17 from the field in the first half as it struggled to find any open driving lanes against Illinois' tenacious man-to-man defense. "We were trying to do whatever we could to get going," Clarke said. "Whether that was me being aggressive and trying to get to the hole and score a little bit or get other guys going, we were just trying to get into a groove." The Illini continued to stroke it offensively, serving up seven 3-pointers before halftime. Their three-headed monster at guard -- Paul, Abrams and Richardson -- combined for five 3-pointers and 27 points in the first half, nearly matching the entire Bulldogs team. Griffey's 3-pointer gave Illinois its largest lead of the half at 37-22 with 3:41 remaining. A layup by Butler's Roosevelt Jones cut Illinois' lead to 39-28 at halftime. "When you give up 39 points at Butler in a half, something is wrong and it was we could not keep up with their ball movement," Stevens said. Butler slowly chipped away in the second half as the Illini went cold from long distance for the first time all tournament. Clarke's fifth 3-pointer of the game cut the Illinois lead to 49-44. Illinois went on an 8-0 run, with Griffey hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Illini a 57-44 lead with 9:12 remaining. "We just couldn't keep up with them," Stevens said. In earlier action Wednesday, North Carolina became the first team to top 100 points in the tourney since Washington in 2010, defeating Chaminade 112-70 to finish third. Marquette defeated Southern California 72-64 in the fifth-place game, and Texas downed Mississippi State 69-55 for seventh place.
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