When it came time to survive and advance, Miami sophomore point guard Shane Larkin took matters into his own hands.
Larkin hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 59 seconds left and later nailed two key free throws as second-seeded Miami barely edged seventh-seeded Illinois, 63-59, Sunday night at the Frank Erwin Center.
Larkin finished with 17 points and five assists to deliver Miami to the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes (29-6) will face Marquette in the East Region semifinal on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Rion Brown gave Miami a huge lift off the bench, hitting 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions midway through the second half as the Hurricanes opened up a seven-point lead.
Then Miami had to survive a push from Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul, who scored eight points to lead the Fighting Illini back into the lead at 54-52 with 3:19 left.
Paul led Illinois (23-13) with 18 points.
But Larkin hit his decisive 3-pointer just when the Hurricanes had to have it in the final minute. Durand Scott, Larkin and Brown each went to the free-throw line in the final 36 seconds and went 6-for-6 to keep Miami in front.
Brown, who finished with a game-high 21 points, sparked a run that staked the Hurricanes to a slight halftime lead.
Brown made a layup on an assist from Tonye Jekiri to start the run, then hit a pair of 3-pointers to keep it going as Miami went on a 15-4 surge. Larkin added a trey and Kenny Kadji made a couple of baskets as the Hurricanes went from an 18-14 deficit to a 29-22 lead with 3:52 left in the first half.
But Paul gave Illinois some momentum before halftime.
Paul went to the basket effectively to score six of his eight first-half points in the final five minutes before the break. He took an inbound pass under the Miami goal with five seconds left before intermission, drove the length of the floor and cashed in a layup that cut the Hurricanes lead to 29-26.
NOTES: Miami had zero minutes of NCAA Tournament experience on its roster going into its opening game against Pacific, but the Hurricanes handled themselves well, winning by their largest margin of victory of the season, 78-49. ... Illinois entered averaging 24.1 3-point attempts per game and shot 31 times from beyond the arc in its win over Colorado. The Illinois attempted 27 shots from 3-point range on Sunday. Miami is 16-2 when hitting more 3-pointers than its opponent this season. It made nine treys Sunday to seven for Illinois... Miami's early-season schedule included a loss to Florida Gulf Coast and a win over Illinois' Big Ten foe Michigan State. Kadji said everyone on the Hurricanes team picked Florida Gulf Coast to defeat Georgetown. ... Illinois has not been to the Sweet 16 since 2005 when it was the national runner-up.