Former Illinois star Dee Brown to coach at NAIA’s Roosevelt

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CHICAGO – Former Illinois star and NBA player Dee Brown is the new coach at Roosevelt University in Chicago, the NAIA school announced Monday.

The 37-year-old was a McDonald’s All-American and Illinois Mr. Basketball when he played for Proviso East near Chicago in Maywood.

He went on to lead Illinois to Big Ten regular-season titles in 2004 and 2005 and a run to the 2005 NCAA championship game, where Illinois lost to North Carolina.

Brown played professionally for nine seasons, including two NBA seasons for Utah, Washington and Phoenix.

Brown has been an assistant at the University of Illinois Chicago since 2017. He also worked as director of player development and alumni relations for the Illinois men’s basketball team under former coach John Groce and coached AAU ball.

Moore scores 21, Houston hammers Illinois to make Sweet 16

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Once back in their locker room, Houston’s players emptied their water bottles on coach Kelvin Sampson, who peeled off his shirt for the celebratory dousing.

A sweet soaking indeed.

Taze Moore scored 21 points and Jamal Shead added 18 as the Cougars, a Final Four team last season, advanced in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament with a 68-53 win over Illinois, ousted in the opening weekend for the second straight year.

The fifth-seeded Cougars (31-5) are making another serious run at a national title despite losing their two best players to season-ending injuries. Now, with a trio of transfers and a defense with some serious teeth, they’re headed home to Texas for the next round – in San Antonio, against either Arizona or TCU.

“It’s our heart,” Shead said when asked about this team’s toughness. “We don’t want to lose. We want to win for each other. We love each other so much, these guys are like my brothers, you know, it goes way beyond basketball.

“We want to keep it going as long as we possibly can.”

Kyler Edwards added 15 points for Houston, a team often overlooked but making major noise again this March.

With Houston’s fans chanting “Sweet 16, Sweet 16” in the closing seconds, Edwards dropped one last 3-pointer from the corner and seconds later lifted Moore, another of Houston’s transfers, off the floor.

The Cougars faced major adversity in December when guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, two of the holdovers from last year’s talented squad, were lost to injuries. But instead of folding, Houston’s players formed an even tighter bond.

“We got a brand-new bunch,” Sampson said, dried off and fully dressed. “But the culture never changes. Because they’re great kids and they’re high-character kids, they buy in. It’s never about them. Our program is always about we and us, and that’s what happens when you have great kids.”

For Illinois, it’s another year of deep disappointment. The fourth-seeded Fighting Illini (23-10) were determined to go farther after being bumped by Loyola Chicago last year, but couldn’t get past the second round again.

All-American center Kofi Cockburn did his part, scoring 19 in 38 minutes to lead Illinois. The big man spurned the NBA last year for a shot at some tournament redemption, only to come up short in what was likely his last college game.

“It hurts really bad, especially for the guys that’s leaving,” Cockburn said. “We always want to leave with with a good feeling, you know? We fell short. Can’t really put it into words.”

Illinois coach Brad Underwood credited Houston’s defense, but didn’t have an answer for his team’s poor shooting (6 of 25 on 3s) or turnovers (17). He got a nice lift from freshmen Luke Goode and RJ Melendez, but not enough from his other regulars.

“We didn’t play very well. We didn’t shoot it very well,” Underwood said. “We played well enough; we didn’t shoot it very well. You look at our two games here, and we just shot it terrible.

“We got great shots, we just couldn’t make them.”

Down by 12 in the first half, Illinois battled back and was within 56-49 after Alfonso Plummer’s four-point play.

But after Shead hit a floater, Houston’s Fabian White Jr. made the play of the game by racing into the backcourt and swatting the ball before it went out of bounds with his left hand to Moore for a layup.

“Culture play, that’s what we call it,” Sampson said. “Those are culture plays. Whenever we watch film, we do edits. We always end our film sessions with culture plays. Everybody wants to be on the edit.

“There were three guys involved in that play. Somebody made a great effort play on the baseline, Fabian made a great effort play, and next thing you know, Taze is getting a layup.”

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

As Illinois was fighting back, Melendez was called for a questionable technical foul by referee Brian O’Connell for hanging on the rim after a dunk.

The bucket brought the Illini within four in the final 10 minutes, but the call seemed to have a negative effect.

Melendez said he didn’t get an explanation.

Underwood was both puzzled and perturbed by the call

“I can’t wait to see it,” Underwood said. “He (O’Connell) told me he shouldn’t ever have called it, but in the moment he calls it. Maybe it’s personal, I don’t know. When a kid has a full head of steam going 100 miles an hour, and we all talk about safety and well-being of student-athletes, come on.

“And then to kill momentum like that? Horrible.”

Plummer’s late free throws lift Illini by Chattanooga 54-53

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PITTSBURGH — Alfonso Plummer scored 15 points, including the go-ahead free throws with 12 seconds to go, and fourth-seeded Illinois escaped 13th-seeded Chattanooga 54-53 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

The Big Ten co-champion Illini (23-9) never led until the final minute and survived when Chattanooga star Malachi Smith missed twice in the closing seconds. His runner in the lane was swatted by Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins and his pull-up jumper just before the clock expired clanged off the rim.

Illinois will play either fifth-seeded Houston or 12th-seeded UAB on Sunday in a South Region second-round game.

Illinois All-America center Kofi Cockburn had 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. His putback gave the Illini a 52-51 lead with 48 seconds to go. Smith, the Southern Conference Player of the Year, responded by drilling a pair of free throws to put Chattanooga back in front.

Plummer, who hit three 3-pointers to help Illinois climb back from an 11-point second-half deficit, drove the left side and was fouled. He knocked down both shots. Chattanooga, with Pro Football Hall of Fame alum Terrell Owens urging the Mocs on, declined to call timeout.

The ball ended up in Smith’s hands twice, but unlike their thriller in the Southern Conference Tournament final – which ended with a game-winning 30-foot heave by David Jean-Baptiste – there would be no last-second heroics.

Chattanooga’s attempt to win its first game in the tournament since 1997 – when it was a 14 seed and knocked off Illinois on the way to the Sweet 16 – ended when Hawkins grabbed his eighth and final rebound.

Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris promised to throw multiple bodies at Cockburn in an effort to keep the 7-footer in check. It worked early, as the Mocs harassed him nearly every time down the floor.

It led to a lot of pushing, a lot of shoving and – for a while – a lot of fouls. Josh Ayeni and Silvio De Sousa each drew three whistles in the first half alone. Cockburn struggled to take advantage, missing 5 of 8 free throws early before he and the Illini started to get into a rhythm after the Mocs were forced to go small.

Chattanooga led by as much as 12 but Illinois closed the half on a 13-6 surge, with six of the points coming from Cockburn, who let out a scream at one point after swatting a layup attempt by Darius Banks.

The Mocs recovered to take a 40-29 lead early in the second half but a 10-0 run by the Illini – fueled by a pair of 3-pointers by Plummer – set up a taut if not exactly pretty final 10 minutes.

Big Ten lands three players on AP All-America first team

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Keegan Murray has given Iowa a first-team Associated Press All-American for the third straight year, and Kofi Cockburn has made it two in a row for Illinois – not bad for a couple programs that haven’t had a whole lot of them.

The Fighting Illini never had a first-team pick until Ayo Dosunmu made it last season when Cockburn was voted to the second team. And the Hawkeyes had not had a first-team selection since the 1952 season until Luka Garza, last year’s AP player of the year, made his second consecutive appearance in the five-man team.

Throw in Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and the Big Ten was well represented Tuesday on the AP’s first team, which also included Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe – this year’s player of the year favorite – and Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji.

“I’ve had to learn from a lot of guys last year just what it takes to be great at this level,” said Murray, a sophomore guard from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who is fourth nationally in scoring at 23.6 points per game heading into the NCAA Tournament.

“I mean, it’s kind of like everything just got put together for me,” Murray added, “just all the hard work that we put in.”

The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes, who won the Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday, will open their NCAA tourney on Thursday against Richmond.

“We struggled earlier on this year a little bit and now we’re doing really well,” Murray said, “and it’s just a great feeling.”

All the first-team picks have their teams positioned to make a postseason run.

Cockburn, the bruising forward from Kingston, Jamaica, and the fourth-seeded Fighting Illini play Chattanooga on Friday, the same day Davis and the third-seeded Badgers open against Colgate. Tshiebwe has Kentucky seeded second going into Thursday’s game against Saint Peter’s. Agbaji and the top-seeded Jayhawks open against one of the play-in teams.

Davis is the Badgers’ third first-team All-American, joining Alando Tucker in 2007 and Frank Kaminsky in 2015, while Tshiebwe is the first for Kentucky since Tyler Ulis in 2016. Agbaji gives the Jayhawks a first-team pick for the third time in six years after Frank Mason in 2017 and Devonte Graham in 2018.

Just like Murray with the Hawkeyes, Agbaji already has some experience cutting down nets this season.

The Big 12 player of the year led Kansas past Texas Tech in the conference title game, adding tournament MVP honors to a growing collection of hardware that Agbaji has earned during his senior season.

“It’s great to see him do all these things. He’s accomplishing pretty much every goal he set out to accomplish,” Jayhawks teammate Christian Braun said, “and it’s awesome to watch him every day, you know, work hard and practice hard and do all these things, and then accomplish everything he set out to accomplish.”

SECOND TEAM

Drew Timme of Gonzaga led the AP second team for the second straight year and was joined by freshman teammate Chet Holmgren. Jaden Ivey of Purdue gave the Big Ten another All-American, while likely No. 1 draft pick Jabari Smith of Auburn and Benedict Mathurin of Arizona rounded out the second team.

The Bulldogs, who are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, also had two second-team picks last year in Timme and Jalen Suggs. Another teammate, Corey Kispert, was a first-teamer last year.

THIRD TEAM

Paolo Banchero of Duke was the only player from the ACC to be chosen for one of the first three teams, while the Blue Devils were the only team from the vaunted basketball conference to land in the final Top 25 poll this season. Banchero also will go down as the final All-American in a long list to have played for retiring Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Banchero was joined on the third team by Collin Gillespie of Villanova and E.J. Liddell of Ohio State, both of whom were honorable mention picks last season, and Walker Kessler of Auburn. James Akinjo of Baylor and JD Notae of Arkansas tied for the last spot on the third team, giving it six members rather than five.

HONORABLE MENTION

David Roddy of Colorado State was the top vote getter among the honorable mention selections. Others to receive the honor include Armando Bacot of North Carolina; Johnny Juzang of UCLA; Alondes Williams of Wake Forest; Tari Eason of LSU; Zach Edey of Purdue; two-time pick Max Abmas of Oral Roberts; and Ron Harper Jr. of Rutgers.

Gonzaga, Arizona remain atop AP Top 25 in week of changes

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The top six and seven of the top nine teams in the AP Top 25 lost on the same day last week, an unprecedented day of chaos that led to some big changes in this week’s poll – everywhere but at the top.

Gonzaga and Arizona remained the top two teams in the poll released Monday, holding steady despite both losing their most recent games.

The Zags received 43 first-place votes from the AP’s 61-person media panel after being a unanimous pick last week. No. 3 Baylor had four first-place votes and No. 4 Duke picked up 11. Auburn rounded out the top five.

Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Purdue, Kansas and Kentucky all lost on Saturday, marking the first time in the AP poll era (1948-49) that the top six teams lost on the same day. No. 9 Texas Tech also lost, setting another record for most top-10 teams losing in one day.

“It’s kind of life in late February and early March, especially on the road,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the Zags’ 67-57 loss to No. 19 Saint Mary’s to close out their regular season.

Baylor was the biggest beneficiary of its Saturday win, moving up seven spots after beating Kansas 80-70. The Jayhawks fell one spot to No. 6 with the loss.

Auburn lost three spots from last week after losing to No. 13 Tennessee. No. 7 Kentucky fell a spot after losing to No. 14 Arkansas and Purdue dropped four places to No. 8 with its loss to Michigan State.

Got all that?

In all, every team but four got shuffled in this week’s poll; only Gonzaga, Arizona, No. 14 Houston and No. 16 Southern California held steady.

No teams fell out or moved into the poll, but things are getting awfully interesting with conference tournaments just around the corner.

BATTLING BEARS

Baylor, the reigning national champion, looked like a good bet to get back to the Final Four at the start of the season after opening 15-0 while holding the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 for five weeks.

Then things got a little shaky.

The Bears lost consecutive home games for the first time since 2015-16, then injuries began piling up, including a gruesome leg injury to forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.

After tumbling down the poll, Baylor may be finding its footing. The Bears won a rematch over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and did the same against Kansas on Saturday, improving to 10-1 against top-10 teams the past two seasons.

“I know our team looked a little bit different in the beginning of the year than we do now but don’t count these guys out,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They persevere.”

RISING/FALLING

Baylor’s jump was the biggest of the week by gaining seven spots. Tennessee, Arkansas and Saint Mary’s all climbed four spots.

No. 17 UCLA and No. 20 Illinois had the biggest drops (five spots). The Bruins lost to Oregon before beating Oregon State last week and the Illini lost to No. 23 Ohio State before knocking off Michigan.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences led the way again this week, each with five teams ranked. The Big 12 had four ranked teams, with the Pac-12 and Big East getting three each. The West Coast Conference had two ranked teams for the second straight week, with the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic and Ohio Valley conferences at one each.

Cockburn, Plummer help No. 15 Illinois beat Michigan 93-85

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Kofi Cockburn dominated on the inside, as usual, and his teammates provided plenty of offense from the outside.

Cockburn scored 27 points and Alfonso Plummer had 26, helping No. 15 Illinois beat Michigan 93-85 on Sunday.

“Kofi was truly great,” coach Brad Underwood said.

Plummer was, too, especially in the first half.

The Utah transfer had 23 points at halftime after making 7 of 11 shots, including 5 of 8 3-pointers, and 4 of 6 free throws.

“Plummer had as good a first half as I’ve seen any player not named Mike Beasley that I’ve coached,” said Underwood, who was on Kansas State’s staff when the former NBA player was at the school. “That was electric.”

The Fighting Illini (20-8, 13-5 Big Ten) led by eight at halftime and were ahead by 15 midway through the second half before the Wolverines (15-12, 9-8) rallied to give themselves a shot at a comeback win.

Caleb Houstan’s 3-pointer with 2:03 pulled Michigan within two points, and Cockburn quickly responded with a jump hook.

Trent Frazier made a 3-pointer with 45.2 seconds left – just before the shot clock expired – for a seven-point lead. The win pulled Illinois within a game of Big Ten-leading and 13th-ranked Wisconsin.

Michigan was without suspended coach Juwan Howard, who missed the second of five games for hitting a Wisconsin assistant coach a week ago. Phil Martelli again filled in for Howard.

“We just weren’t good enough and we trailed for 40 minutes,” Martelli said. “And defensively, we seemed to be chasing.”

Frazier finished with 17 points and Andre Curbelo scored 12 for the Illini.

DeVante’ Jones had a season-high 25 points and matched a career high with 10 assists for the Wolverines. Houstan scored 21 points, matching the season high he set in his previous game.

Hunter Dickinson had 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting and 11 rebounds, playing in a matchup that he missed last month due to the effects of COVID-19 as Illinois won 68-53 at home.

“Jones played great for them, which is OK,” Underwood said. “We did a really good job on Hunter.”

Michigan’s Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams returned from one-game suspensions, stemming from the melee at Wisconsin. Diabate started and finished with 12 points. Williams did not play in the first half and had two points in four minutes of the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: After losing three of the previous five games, the Illini put together a strong performance on the road to stay in the Big Ten championship race.

Michigan: The Wolverines have work to do to earn an NCAA Tournament at-large bid with a grueling schedule to end the regular season with four games in an eight-day stretch.

“The fact that we’re on spring break is actually going to help because they can decompress,” Martelli said. “But it’s also a challenge because it’s lonely and there’s no one around.”

LET’S GO O!

Illinois made 71% of its shots in the first half, finishing at 57% shooting, and Michigan connected on 51% of its attempts.

“There wasn’t much defense being played,” Underwood said.

HE SAID IT

“We don’t have great rim presence,” Martelli said. “I think we’re last in the Big Ten in blocked shots per game. We have to improve on that.”

Michigan entered the game 10th in the Big Ten in blocked shots, averaging 2.9 per game.

FOLLOWING UP

Plummer had 26 points in his previous game and matched a school record with 8 3-pointers in a loss to Ohio State.

“Plummer has been spectacular,” Underwood said.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Illini may stay in the same spot in the Top 25 after losing to No. 22 Ohio State by three points and beating Michigan.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Finishes the regular season at home against Penn State on Thursday and No. 25 Iowa on Saturday.

Michigan: Closes the regular season, hosting rival Michigan State on Tuesday, the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes on Thursday and playing at No. 22 Ohio State on Sunday.