LAHAINA, Hawaii — The Illinois caught a huge wave of scoring in Hawaii and rode it all the way to the Maui Invitational title.
Now, the Illini are hoping to carry that success to bigger tournaments that start in March.
“We are excited — we are not done,” Illinois coach John Groce said Wednesday night after Illinois beat Butler 78-61 to top an eight-team field that included No. 9 North Carolina and Marquette.
“It is an extremely great start for our basketball team, but we have to make sure we do not eat the poisonous pill of success,” Groce said.
Brandon Paul scored 20 points to lead Illinois in the team’s third straight double-digit win.
“We came out with the mindset that we wanted to prove ourselves, and I think we did that,” Paul said. “We’re in no shape to just stop right here.”
The Illini (6-0) held off several attempts by Butler to string points together in the second half. Paul was one of four players in double figures, along with Tracy Abrams with 17 points and Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson with 14 each.
Illinois shot 48 percent as Butler (3-2) relied almost exclusively on point guard Rotnei Clarke to score. Clarke had 27 points and took nearly one-third his team’s shots.
Butler coach Brad Stevens said he feels Illinois is better than people think, and Paul is a top-notch professional prospect.
“Anyone who thinks that’s a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, I would argue with them,” Stevens said.
After the buzzer, the Illini players went to center court to get gray championship T-shirts and kukui nut leis. Paul got a special lei as tournament MVP and held up a basketball-shaped trophy as a contingent of Illinois fans cheered.
Illinois won by outshooting Butler in the first half and countering each Bulldog run in the second.
After the Bulldogs pulled within five points with 12:26 left, the Illini went on a 10-point run highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Griffey. He hit one from the right side, and after Kellen Dunham missed a 3 on the other end, Griffey took a pass and fired successfully from near the top of the key.
While Clarke scored 16 points in the first half for Butler, his teammates made only four baskets.
In the middle of a nine-point run, Paul gave Illinois a 12-point lead with a straightaway 3-pointer after Clarke missed on the other end. One basket later, the Illini led 37-22 with less than four minutes left in the half.
Illinois and Butler each reached the tournament’s title game by winning games on consecutive days.
Butler opened the event with a buzzer-beating win over Marquette, 72-71, after Clarke launched a running 22-foot 3-pointer from the right side as time expired. The Bulldogs then outplayed North Carolina in the second round, halting several comeback attempts from the Tar Heels en route to an 11-point win.
Illinois easily won its first two games, beating USC by 30 and Division II Chaminade by 24. It never trailed in the tournament.
Groce said he felt honored to top the field.
“Our guys are humbled,” he said.
Illinois and Butler had not played each other since 1971.
North Carolina 112, Chaminade 70
LAHAINA, Hawaii — James Michael McAdoo scored 18 points to lead five North Carolina players in double figures, and the ninth-ranked Tar Heels routed Division II Chaminade in the tournament’s third-place game.
It was the first time this season that the Tar Heels (5-1) have topped the century mark. They put up 62 points in the first half after being held to 18 points in the first half in Tuesday’s loss to Butler.
Tournament host Chaminade (3-3) scored consecutive baskets just three times.
McAdoo had 10 rebounds for a double-double. Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald scored 17 points each and Brice Johnson had 16.
UNC shot 62.3 percent, making nearly 69 percent of its shots in the first half including nine 3-pointers.
The Tar Heels overwhelmed Chaminade 62-33 at the break.
The Silverswords had a 7-4 lead in the game’s second minute, but Carolina scored 15 straight and Chaminade never came close after that. Chaminade had 12 turnovers in the half, leading to 21 UNC points, while the Tar Heels had three runs of six or more points each.
It was Carolina’s best scoring half since the Tar Heels put up 60 in in the second half in November 2011 against Mississippi Valley State. North Carolina had three players with at least 10 points each at halftime.
UNC reached 100 points when Jackson Simmons made an easy layup with 6:35 left.
The win loosened up North Carolina (5-1) and its fans before it flies home Thursday and faces top-ranked Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next week.
Marquette 72, USC 64
LAHAINA, Hawaii — Jamil Wilson channeled his inner aloha spirit with a colorful 19-point performance in Marquette’s win over USC in the fifth-place game.
Wilson made 7 of 9 field goals off the bench, throwing up Hawaii’s famous shaka sign each time he hit a 3-pointer.
After being down 39-27 at halftime, J.T. Terrell made a 3-pointer to pull USC within one point with 14 minutes left. Wilson responded on Marquette’s next possession with a 3-pointer of his own from the top of the key, then stared into the crowd while skipping backward across the floor, waving his shaka sign in the air with his right hand. Wilson then rebounded USC’s next shot, starting a transition that led to a layup by Junior Cadougan and a 51-45 lead, sending Wilson and the traveling Marquette fans into screams.
The Trojans got no closer than six points after that.
Davante Gardner added 12 points for the Golden Eagles (4-1), Cadougan had 11 and Chris Otule scored 10. Vander Blue scored only six points despite taking the most shots on his team. He was 3 for 11 from the floor after scoring 21 against Butler in Marquette’s Maui opener and 18 against Mississippi State — both team highs.
J.T. Terrell had 21 points for USC (3-2). Byron Wesley added 12 points while Eric Wise had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Texas 69, Miss. St. 55
LAHAINA, Hawaii — Guard Sheldon McClellan came off the bench and scored 19 points in the seventh-place game to give Texas its first win in three days at the Maui Invitational.
The Longhorns (3-2) went up by 18 points in the first half and coasted in the last 20 minutes, shooting 50 percent for the game.
Mississippi State (1-4) made one-third of its shots (17 of 51), improving in the second half after making only five field goals in the first.
Julien Lewis scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half. Cameron Ridley had eight points and 12 rebounds.
Roquez Johnson led the Bulldogs with 18 points, starting after limping off the court with help in the second half of Tuesday’s loss to Marquette.
Texas took a 10-point lead midway through the first half, scoring eight straight points starting with a dunk from Cameron Ridley and finishing with a 3-pointer from Ioannis Papapetrou. Less than two minutes later, Prince Ibeh blocked a layup attempt from Trivante Bloodman, leading to a transition dunk for Lewis. The Longhorns took a 17-point lead with just under five minutes in the half on a 3-pointer from Demarcus Holland.
Mississippi State made no field goals in the half after Gavin Ware hit a jumper with 9:38 left. Its best run all game was seven straight points from free throws.