By Joseph Phillips, Crusader Sports Editor
The University of Illinois Fighting Illini was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament with a 71-58 loss to Loyola University on Sunday, March 21, in Indianapolis.
The Illini had no answer for the Ramblers’ defense, which held Illinois to a 33-24 halftime lead.
“We tried everything in the bag,” said Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood via the Illini Inquirer. “Everything that’s made us one of the most efficient offensive teams today, just for whatever reason didn’t work. … You can’t turn it over 17 times in an NCAA Tournament game against a good team and expect to win, and turnovers were the undoing.”
The Ramblers smothered the Illini guards with their suffocating pick-and-roll defense and held All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu to only nine points in one of the biggest games of the year.
The only bright spot for the Illini was the play of center Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn finished with a team-high 21 points and nine rebounds in the contest.
“It’s one of the great things about March Madness is you have an off-day and you lose, and you can’t lose sight of the — I don’t even know what our record was,” said Underwood via the Illini Inquirer.
“You can’t lose sight of that. You can’t lose sight of the Big Ten championship. You can’t lose sight of the 19 games we won against Big Ten opponents. You can’t lose sight of the growth that this team made through the season. I’ll remember this very, very fondly, this group, as a team that really continued to take the next step in our progress of building. I think we’ve brought Illinois back, and it’s been a resurrection of sorts and a great challenge, and this team has accomplished a great deal.”
Coach Underwood and the Fighting Illini won 24 games this season and finished second place in the Big Ten conference. The Illini were crowned Big Ten Tournament Champions last weekend after beating the Ohio State University Buckeyes.
Thanks to Coach Porter Moser’s defensive strategies and center Cameron Krutwig’s 19 points and 12 rebounds, the Ramblers are moving on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Former Whitney Young standout Lucas Williamson added 14 points in the Ramblers’ win.
Chicago Crusader Players of the Game:
Kofi Cockburn, Fighting Illini, 21 points.
Cameron Krutwig, Loyola, added 19 points.