Illinois men's basketball advances to Maui Tournament championship game to face Butler

The Maui Invitational was widely regarded as the Illini men's basketball team’s first true test. It was largely seen as a gauge for how the team would fare when the mid-major conference teams shuffled out of the gym and Illinois finally faced some elite talent.

In Tuesday’s semifinal round of Hawaii’s preseason classic, the Illini (5-0) faced an unlikely challenger, defeating Division II opponent Chaminade 84-61, advancing to the tournament’s championship round against Butler on Wednesday.

Fresh off its stunning win over Texas on Monday — inspiring memories of the island school’s 1982 upset over No. 1 Virginia — Chaminade couldn’t replicate the same success against the Illini. After blowing out USC by 30 points in the first round on Monday, the Illini seniors kept level heads. Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and redshirt junior Joseph Bertrand all scored in double figures and kept the game under control from start to finish.

Illinois took a 37-21 lead into the locker room at halftime, and after Monday’s lackluster first half against the Trojans, it closed with a strong showing in the second half. Bertrand led the way with 14 points and six rebounds, while Paul added 13 points of his own and dished out four assists.

After Monday’s game, Illini head coach John Groce said he wanted to see his team’s assist-to-turnover ratio improve in the second round against Chaminade. Illinois had 17 assists against 20 turnovers against USC, but drove that number down against the Silverswords, committing 11 turnovers and dishing out 13 assists. Sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams only had one turnover after a tough game against the Trojans in which he turned the ball over eight times.

Groce and Butler head coach Brad Stevens will face off for the Maui Tournament crown on Wednesday. The two were assistant coaches together under Thad Matta when the current Ohio State coach was at Butler, and Stevens was reportedly one of Illinois' first choices to replace former head coach Bruce Weber this past spring. Stevens rejected the Illini’s offer to coach in Champaign, and less than a week later, Groce was hired.

The Illini and Groce will have a chance to make an early-season statement on Wednesday.

Ethan can be reached at  asofsky1@dailyillini.com.