Leron Black's career night powers Illinois past UT Martin 77-74
(AP) Leron Black scored a career-high 23 points and snatched eight rebounds Sunday, helping Illinois avoid an early season upset to UT Martin for a 77-74 victory.
Down by three with under a minute to go, the Skyhawks had two chances to tie the game but ultimately came up short.
“A lot of credit to Tennessee-Martin,” coach Brad Underwood said. “They made a nice change at half time.”
The Illini led by as much as 19, but the Skyhawks – led by Delfincko Bogan’s 23 points and four rebounds – wouldn’t go away easily.
Trailing 38-51, UT Martin went on an 11-0 run at the 15:30 mark of the second half, capped off by a lucky bankshot 3-pointer from Matthew Butler that cut the lead to four.
Illinois pushed the margin back up to 15 with 4:34 left, but UT Martin responded once again with a late-game 18-6 run. With 0.7 second left, Butler took a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer but airballed.
“I’m not one on moral victories, but I am proud of my guys,” coach Anthony Stewart said. “I know if we have that kind of effort . we’re going to be just fine.”
The Illini started off much slower than in their season opener, missing seven of their first 10 shots. But Black found a rhythm early.
He nailed the first basket of the game on a turnaround jumper from the free throw line, and finished the first half with 13 points on 5-6 shooting.
“(I’m) just trusting the system,” Black said. “Trying to be in the right spots.”
Freshman Mark Smith was Illinois’ second leading scorer with 13 points.
Illinois: The Illini came back down to earth after scoring 102 points in their season opener, shooting just 28.6 percent from behind the arc. UT Martin’s zone defense showed that it may be an effective approach against a young Illinois team.
UT Martin: The Skyhawks dropped to 0-2 on the season, but put up a solid effort behind Bogan, Butler and Dominque Williams. All three upperclassmen scored in double figures for UT Martin, who lost its top three scorers from last season.
Illinois: Illinois will face DePaul Friday night in the third game of a season-opening six-game home stand. The Blue Demons are 1-1 and have four players averaging double-figures.
UT Martin: The Skyhawks are back in action for their home opener Wednesday against North Carolina Central. The Eagles are looking to bounce back from a 10-point season-opening loss to Illinois-Chicago.