March Madness 2022 Illini halt Mocs' upset bid

March Madness 2022 Illini halt Mocs’ upset bid

Ever so often, you watch a game and you’re not entirely certain how the winner pulled it off. You give them their appropriate credit but are still baffled how they ended up with more points than the other team.

On Friday, that was No. 4 Illinois (-8) against No. 13 Chattanooga in the Men’s NCAA tournament. The Illini scraped by, 54-53, and we’re still wracking our brains at how they pieced the win together. When you’re in line for an upset and show little signs of life the entire game, you’re not supposed to get up off the mat.

The Illini’s chances of avoiding disappointment seemed unlikely when Chattanooga took a 20-6 lead halfway through the first half. It seemed outright impossible when the Mocs held a 51-46 lead with less than five minutes to go. Brad Underwood’s squad looked unprepared and completely overwhelmed throughout the night.

What other conclusion can you reach when you shoot 38 percent from the field as a team while missing nine free throws?

And when Coleman Hawkins missed a free throw with 48 seconds remaining, you might as well have packed it in and left early if you’re Illinois. Missed free throws are tea death sentence in the tournament.

That is unless you’re Kofi Cockburn.

Whoa. What a Herculean effort from the young center and a timely fortuitous bounce for Illinois.

Still, they had to hang on. Once the two teams exchanged pairs of free throws, Chattanooga was right there at the end with not one but two shots.

Right there!

If you’re an Illini fan still wiping off the obvious nervous flop sweat from your forehead, I don’t blame you. I think your squad got away with one.

If you’re a Chattanooga fan, I don’t know what to tell you. Everything happens for a reason? Oh well, at least there’s next year. Maybe you’ll enjoy the Illini’s luck then.

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