No. 2 Texas and No. 17 Illinois will look to pad their respective impressive early-season resumes when they square off on Tuesday as part of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Longhorns (6-0) roll into Tuesday matchup off a 72-67 win at home over then-No. 7 Creighton on Thursday. The victory was Texas’ second over a top-10 team this season and its first in an AP Top 10 matchup since 2009, when No. 2 Texas claimed a 79-68 win over No. 9 Michigan State.
“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better. That’s not the sexiest answer, but it’s true. It’s December. You get to February or March, you can get to proving things. We’re just kind of chipping away.”
Marcus Carr scored 19 points to lead Texas, which hasn’t been ranked this high since 2010. Tyrese Hunter added 15 points for the Longhorns, with Timmy Allen scoring 11 and Dillon Mitchell hitting for 10.
Brock Cunningham, usually the Longhorns’ scrappy defender and clutch “glue” player, converted two free throws (his only points of the game) with four seconds to play to ice the contest between two of the best teams over the first three weeks of the season.
Texas’ defense held Creighton to a season-low 67 points on 40.9 percent shooting from the floor, including a 4-of-27 mark (14.8 percent) from 3-point range. Creighton entered the game averaging 83.9 points per contest while converting 51.2 percent from the floor, including a 38.2 percent mark from beyond the arc.
The Longhorns also registered 15 assists against just three turnovers in the win.
“The difference in the game was our ability to take care of the ball,” Beard said. “It was two really good teams that have a chance to have special seasons.”
The Illini (6-2) head to the Big Apple off a 71-66 loss at then-No. 22 Maryland on Friday in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Terrence Shannon Jr. paced Illinois with 19 points (11 of them in the second half), marking the fourth time in eight games he’s tallied at least 19. Coleman Hawkins added 16, and RJ Melendez scored 13 and grabbed a career-high seven rebounds.
Illinois dominated in the paint, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points, outscoring Maryland 44-28 in the lane and blocking seven shots.
Illinois trailed by 10 points with 12:45 to play but rallied to tie the game at 62 eight minutes later. Poor offensive execution down the stretch doomed the Illini, who were outscored 9-4 in the final minutes.
“You’ve got to find ways when (the offense) isn’t pretty,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “I thought our defense was great in the second half. A hard-fought game. It’s tough to win on the road in this league. We’ve got to become better and execute better.”
The Illini’s two losses this season are to ranked teams, including a 70-61 setback to then-No. 16 Virginia on Nov. 20 in the championship of the Main Event tournament in Las Vegas.
Texas and Illinois have met five previous times, with Texas owning a 3-2 edge on the strength of two straight wins, the latest in 2010 in overtime in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament at MSG.
–Field Level Media