MIAMI — Thanks to a dose of defense, Illinois’ recent turnaround gained momentum Saturday.
The Illini held Virginia Commonwealth to 30-percent shooting and won 64-46 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational.
The win was the second in a row for Illinois (6-3) after a pair of losses to ranked teams, including a thumping by 32 points from West Virginia.
“I’m proud of our guys for the way they responded from where we were at last week,” Coach John Groce said. “I love the fact that our staff, our support staff, our players said, ‘Let’s get this stuff fixed. Let’s come up with solutions.’ We fixed a couple of things and we played better this week. We took steps in the right direction.”
Illinois sophomore Leron Black tied a career-high with 18 points, added eight rebounds and was chosen the game’s most valuable player. Malcolm Hill had 16 points, five assists and two steals, and Jalen Coleman-Lands scored 12 points.
VCU (6-2), which was off to its best start since 1993, had a three-game winning streak snapped.
“We just got hammered,” Coach Will Wade said. “We weren’t ready to play. We got beat in every hustle category. It’s on me. I didn’t have us prepared to play. It’s embarrassing as I’ve ever been in four years coaching a team.
“We were crying and moaning. ... We were just awful.”
The Rams shot a season-low 16-for-53, including 2-for-18 (11 percent) from 3-point range. Things got worse at the end, when Illinois outscored VCU 14-3 in the final 4:20.
“We finished so well because we defended so well,” Black said. “As our defense goes, so does our offense. We wanted to keep them uncomfortable.”
JeQuan Lewis, averaging a team-high 15.7 points, was held to three points and shot 1-for-7 from 3-point range. He limped out of the game with a right ankle injury, and although he returned, he played only 21 minutes.
“I don’t think it certainly helped when he hurt his ankle,” Wade said.
Mo Alie-Cox led the Rams with 10 points. They came in shooting 50 percent this season and had scored at least 63 points in every game.
Wyoming 3s sink Panthers
LARAMIE, Wyo. — Jason McManamen was 6-of-7 from the arc in scoring 21 points and Wyoming defeated Northern Iowa 81-73 on Saturday.
McManamen led a Cowboys team that made 16 of 29 3-point attempts for 55.2 percent, the third-most 3-pointers made in Wyoming history. Hayden Dalton made three triples for a career-high 19 points and dished out six assists with the Cowboys (5-2) collecting 22 assists on 26 field goals. Alan Herndon added 12 points.
Jeremy Morgan scored 20 points, Spencer Haldeman had 18 points with four 3-pointers and Jordan Ashton had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Panthers (3-4), who lost their fourth straight game.
The game was tied at halftime at 28-all. The Panthers had a three-point lead with 5:51 to go before the Cowboys went on a 17-1 run to lead 78-65 with 29 seconds remaining.