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Larkin hits key shot in Miami victory

The SportsXchange

AUSTIN, Texas -- When it came time to survive and advance, Miami sophomore point guard Shane Larkin took matters into his own hands.

Larkin hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 59 seconds left and later nailed two key free throws as second-seeded Miami barely edged seventh-seeded Illinois, 63-59, Sunday night at the Frank Erwin Center.

Larkin finished with 17 points and five assists to deliver Miami to the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes (29-6) will face Marquette in the East Region semifinal on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The Illinois defense had stifled Larkin on the perimeter for most of the night. With the clock ticking down to the final minute, Larkin finally double-crossed the Illini.

"Kenny (Kadji) set a high ball screen and I was going to drive," Larkin said. "The guard cut me off and I just stepped back and shot the 3 and it went in."

Rion Brown gave Miami a huge lift off the bench, hitting 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions midway through the second half as the Hurricanes opened up a seven-point lead.

Then Miami had to survive a push from Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul, who scored eight points to lead the Fighting Illini back into the lead at 54-52 with 3:19 left.

Paul finished with 18 points to lead Illinois (23-13). But Illinois, which launches an average of 24 3-pointers per game, made just seven of 27 from long range Sunday.

"It kind of just hit me faster than I thought it would that this was my last game of my college career," Paul said.

Miami had just one field goal in a span of four minutes as Paul and Illinois had taken over the momentum.

The Illini held a one-point lead before Larkin hit his decisive 3-pointer just when the Hurricanes had to have it in the final minute.

Durand Scott, Larkin and Brown each went to the free-throw line in the final 36 seconds and went 6-for-6 to keep Miami in front.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga said Larkin's final-minute trey was another example of why the coach trusts his sophomore point guard.

"He has such a high basketball IQ," Larranaga said. "I have the utmost confidence in him. He backed up and buried the 3. Whenever it's a decision I always look back on it and think to myself it was a good choice."

With 43 seconds left and Miami ahead by two, Illinois guard D.J. Richardson missed a 3-pointer and the ball flew out of bounds. The game officials gave Miami possession, though the video replay showed that a Miami player touched the ball last.

"You saw the same video that I did," Illinois coach John Groce said. "I did think the guys did a good job, though. I respect them and I respect the call."

Brown, who finished with a game-high 21 points, sparked a run that staked the Hurricanes to a slight halftime lead.

Brown made a layup on an assist from Tonye Jekiri to start the run, then hit a pair of 3-pointers to keep it going as Miami went on a 15-4 surge. Larkin added a trey and Kenny Kadji made a couple of baskets as the Hurricanes went from an 18-14 deficit to a 29-22 lead with 3:52 left in the first half.

But Paul gave Illinois some momentum before halftime.

Paul went to the basket effectively to score six of his eight first-half points in the final five minutes before the break. He took an inbound pass under the Miami goal with five seconds left before intermission, drove the length of the floor and cashed in a layup that cut the Hurricanes lead to 29-26.

NOTES: Miami had zero minutes of NCAA Tournament experience on its roster going into its opening game against Pacific, but the Hurricanes handled themselves well, winning by their largest margin of victory of the season, 78-49. ... Illinois entered averaging 24.1 3-point attempts per game and shot 31 times from beyond the arc in its win over Colorado. The Illinois attempted 27 shots from 3-point range on Sunday. Miami is 16-2 when hitting more 3-pointers than its opponent this season. It made nine treys Sunday to seven for Illinois... Miami's early-season schedule included a loss to Florida Gulf Coast and a win over Illinois' Big Ten foe Michigan State. Kadji said everyone on the Hurricanes team picked Florida Gulf Coast to defeat Georgetown. ... Illinois has not been to the Sweet 16 since 2005 when it was the national runner-up.
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