Illinois State’s NIT performance won’t quiet the crowd that thinks the Redbirds never belonged in the NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Redbirds blew an 18-point lead at home against fourth-seeded UCF in the second round Monday, and the game was decided on an ill-advised defensive play by junior forward MiKyle McIntosh.
Down 62-61, UCF needed to go the length of the floor with 4.3 seconds left. As B.J. Taylor dribbled into the frontcourt, McIntosh attempted to cut him off on the sideline but did not get defensive positioning in time.
With McIntosh out of position, the ref made what would be an easy foul call at any point that was not the final minute of a one-possession game. But because of the situation, naturally many people saw the call as controversial.
UCF was in the double bonus only because Illinois State (28-7, 17-1 MVC) had fouled Knights center Tacko Fall on the previous defensive possession before forcing a turnover.
Taylor, a 71.1% free throw shooter, was 9-of-9 for the night and drained both tosses to make it a perfect 11.
Paris Lee’s final heave from beyond halfcourt was off the mark.
In his final collegiate game, Lee finished with 9 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Deontae Hawkins, who has one remaining year of eligibility but intends to leave after the season, had a team-high 15 points.
Taylor led UCF (23-11, 11-7 AAC) with 22 points and 5 assists. 17 of his points came in the second half as the Knights made their comeback. Fall, a 7’6″ sophomore, had all 8 of his points and 11 of his 14 rebounds after halftime.
With three starters leaving, the Redbirds will have some holes to fill this offseason, but they could still be the top two team in the Valley next year. Keyshawn Evans will replace Lee as the starting point guard following his breakout sophomore year, and 6’6″ wing DJ Clayton could fill Hawkins’ shoes as a second scorer alongside McIntosh.