CHAMPAIGN, Ill. _ Leron Black scored a career-high 23 points and snatched eight rebounds Sunday, helping Illinois avoid an early season upset to UT Martin for a 77-74 victory.
Down by three with under a minute to go, the Skyhawks had two chances to tie the game but ultimately came up short.
The Illini led by as much as 19, but the Skyhawks – led by Delfincko Bogan’s 23 points and four rebounds – wouldn’t go away easily.
Trailing 38-51, UT Martin went on an 11-0 run at the 15:30 mark of the second half, capped off by a lucky bankshot 3-pointer from Matthew Butler that cut the lead to four.
Illinois pushed the margin back up to 15 with 4:34 left, but UT Martin responded once again with a late-game 18-6 run. With 0.7 second left, Butler took a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer but airballed.
The Illini started off much slower than in their season opener, missing seven of their first 10 shots. But Black found a rhythm early.
He nailed the first basket of the game on a turnaround jumper from the free throw line, and finished the first half with 13 points on 5-6 shooting.
Freshman Mark Smith wasIllinois’ second leading scorer with 13 points.
Illinois: The Illini came back down to earth after scoring 102 points in their season opener, shooting just 28.6 percent from behind the arc. UT Martin’s zone showed that a zone may be an effective defensive approach for other teams moving forward.
UT Martin: The Skyhawks dropped to 0-2 on the season, but put up a solid effort behind Bogan, Butler and Dominque Williams. All three upperclassmen scored in double figures for UT Martin, who lost its top three scorers from last season.
Illinois: Illinois will face DePaul Friday night in the third game of a season-opening six-game home stand. The Blue Demons are 1-1 and have four players averaging double-figures.
UT Martin: The Skyhawks are back in action for their home opener Wednesday against North Carolina Central. The Eagles are looking to bounce back from a 10-point season-opening loss to the University of Illinois-Chicago.
By JAMES BOYD