Virginia and Illinois were viewed as the lesser squads in the four-team Continental Tire Main Event, as neither club is ranked in the top 10.
But Sunday’s championship game in Las Vegas will feature the No. 16 Cavaliers and No. 19 Fighting Illini after both teams notched impressive upsets on Friday.
Virginia (3-0) received a career-high 26 points from Armaan Franklin while dispatching No. 5 Baylor 86-79. Illinois (4-0) got 29 points from Terrence Shannon Jr. in a 79-70 comeback victory over No. 8 UCLA.
Friday’s victory marked the Cavaliers’ first contest since Virginia football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry were shot and killed in Charlottesville on Sunday night. Monday’s game against Northern Iowa was canceled.
“Win or lose, there was perspective in this game for us, and we wanted to try to honor, to the best of our abilities, our football team and our staff and then, of course, the young men that went to be with the Lord,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “It felt good to do that at the end.”
Franklin scored 18 of his points during Virginia’s 56-point second half.
“It just felt really good,” Franklin said after his second 20-point effort of the season. “Honestly, I’m just going out there and just playing. Trying to play smart, trying to play hard, do whatever I have to do for the team. Make a shot, miss a shot, just staying confident.”
Shannon qualifies as an even hotter player after making a career-best 8 of 9 3-point attempts. The eight treys tie the school record with five others.
“I was in a zone the whole game,” Shannon said. “It was actually during a timeout and (teammate Matthew Mayer) came to me and said I needed to be aggressive and that’s what I did.”
Shannon went over 1,000 career points — his total is at 1,012 — and also fell one point shy of matching his career best while leading Illinois back from a 15-point second-half deficit.
Shannon is in his first season with the Illini after playing three seasons at Texas Tech. His highest single-season scoring average with the Red Raiders was 12.9 in 2020-21.
But he has topped 20 points three times and is averaging 24.3 points through four games with Illinois. He dedicated the offseason to improving his shooting and the early results are promising — 57.4 percent from the field and 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) from 3-point range.
“I think our style helps him and we’ve encouraged his speed downhill,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “One thousand shots a day and getting in at 4:45 in the morning, it’s amazing how success finds hard work.”
Said Mayer: “He turned into Steph Curry when he got here.”
The Illini shot 52.9 percent from the field, including 12 of 25 (48 percent) from 3-point range.
Virginia was even hotter against Baylor — making 55.6 percent of its shots and hitting 9 of 14 (64.3) from behind the arc.
“They were rhythm shots. We just got freed up,” Bennett said. “They play such an aggressive kind of defense, where they’re switching, and we just got enough easy looks, and then guys obviously got the shots and made a couple tough ones. It was just one of those games where it went right.”
This will be the first meeting between the two schools.
–Field Level Media