Originally created 03/19/01

Illinois 79, Charlotte 61



DAYTON, Ohio -- Top-seeded Illinois made sure there would be no 3-point barrage and no big upset in an arena where the NCAA tournament played true to form all week.

The Fighting Illini won a second-round game for the first time in 12 years by using a balanced attack and pesky perimeter defense to beat Charlotte 79-61 Sunday.

Illinois (26-7) will play Kansas, the Midwest Regional's fourth seed, in a semifinal Friday in San Antonio. Like the Fighting Illini, the Jayhawks ended a run of second-round disappointments by drubbing Syracuse 87-58.

Illinois hadn't been to the round of 16 since 1989, the only other time it's had a No. 1 seed. The Fighting Illini reached the Final Four that year, but had failed to make it past the second round in their last seven appearances.

They wound up in the right place - one where the favorites had an easy time.

The tournament began Tuesday in Dayton with a play-in that turned out to be the best game of the week at the arena. Northwestern State's 71-67 victory over Winthrop for the 64th spot was the closest of the bunch.

Charlotte (22-11), seeded ninth, pulled off the only thing approaching an upset by beating eighth-seeded Tennessee 70-63 in the first round.

The 49ers had a shot at a real upset, but couldn't get its 3-point shots to fall against Illinois. Charlotte, second only to Duke in 3-pointers made this season, missed 13 of its first 14 tries and never recovered.

Brian Cook scored 16 points, leading four Illinois players in double figures. Devon Brown had 19 for Charlotte, which made 37 percent of its 3-pointers during the season but hit only 6-of-30 (20 percent) on Sunday.

Everything went Illinois' way. It had one of its best defenders back - forward Sergio McClain played with a black pad on the right shin that he bruised in a first-round win over Northwestern State.

McClain hit a pair of one-hand, running bank shots during an eight-point spurt that put Illinois ahead 27-16 and showed he was fine.

Charlotte, which relies on gritty defense, long-range shooting and Rodney Thomas' versatility, couldn't recover from a slow start.

Thomas, who led all Division I freshmen in scoring with a 19-point average, missed his first three shots, committed a foul and had the ball stripped away as Illinois surged ahead 10-2.

White's 15-foot jumper off a long rebound cut it to 19-16 midway through the half and Charlotte had a chance to tie, but Diego Guevara's 3-pointer from the right corner bounced off the side of the rim and McClain led an eight-point surge that drained the drama from the game.

White managed only nine points on 4-of-13 shooting, missing all six of his 3-point tries.

Once the lead reached 22 points early in the second half, coach Bill Self had the luxury of pacing his team and substituting freely.

Self, in his first year at Illinois, took Tulsa to the tournament in each of the past two seasons and reached a regional final before losing to North Carolina last year.