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Hilltoppers don’t view win over Illini as an upset

Western Kentucky forward Sergio Kerusch (left) scores against Illinois forward Dominique Keller on Thursday in Portland, Ore., during the first round of the NCAA Tournament. WKU pulled off a 76-72 upset.

Western Kentucky forward Sergio Kerusch (left) scores against Illinois forward Dominique Keller on Thursday in Portland, Ore., during the first round of the NCAA Tournament. WKU pulled off a 76-72 upset.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Whether they were relieved, tired or expecting it all along, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers didn’t wildly celebrate their latest NCAA Tournament upset.

A.J. Slaughter was the most demonstrative, pumping his fist a few times after 12th-seeded Western Kentucky held off a late charge to beat fifth-seeded Illinois 76-72 on Thursday night in the South Regional.

“I just kind of had a sigh of relief when it ended, because we made it closer than it should have been,” Slaughter said.

But when asked if he was surprised to be moving on, Slaughter shook his head and laughed. The Hilltoppers grabbed attention in the tournament last season with an unexpected run to the second weekend.

“Nah,” he said.

Steffphon Pettigrew had 17 points to lead Western Kentucky (25-8), which led by as many as 17 points. It was the 19th time in the last 21 years that a No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5.

Trent Meacham had a season-high 24 points for the Illini, who were without senior defensive specialist Chester Frazier, who had surgery on his right hand last week.

“Chester has been our leader and the heart of our team all year,” Meacham said. “It’s tough when you don’t have him, especially because he played the most minutes for us all year. When you play an entire season with someone like that, he’s our iron-man, our leader and we never had to go without him. It was a big blow for us.”

Western Kentucky will face Gonzaga (27-5) in a second round game on Saturday.

In other South Region games from Thursday:

No. 1 North Carolina 101, No. 16 Radford 58: At Greensboro, N.C., Tyler Hansbrough took quick care of his latest record pursuit, then helped North Carolina (29-4) advance.

Hansbrough set the Atlantic Coast Conference career scoring mark in the opening minutes and finished with 22 points.

No. 2 Oklahoma 82, No. 15 Morgan State 54: At Kansas City, Mo., a dominant Blake Griffin had 28 points and 13 rebounds and survived an ugly fall that got another player ejected as Oklahoma (28-5) rolled.

The player of the year favorite took a hard tumble when Morgan State’s Ameer Ali flipped him over his back and on to the court in the second half after the two became entangled. Ali was immediately ejected.

No. 4 Gonzaga 77, No. 13 Akron 64: At Portland, Ore., Josh Heytvelt scored 22 points – seven during a decisive late run – and the Bulldogs (27-5) rallied to get past determined but ultimately overwhelmed Akron.

No. 8 LSU 75, No. 9 Butler 71: At Greensboro, N.C., Butler has put together quite a few upsets in recent NCAA Tournaments. Marcus Thornton scored 30 points to keep LSU (27-7) off that list.

No. 10 Michigan 62, No. 7 Clemson 59: At Kansas City, Mo., Manny Harris scored 21 points and Michigan (21-13) stymied Clemson with its 1-3-1 defense, then survived a late scare in its first NCAA Tournament game in 11 years.

South Region

No. 1 Connecticut 103, No. 16 Chattanooga 47: At Philadelphia, with their coach in the hospital, A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet scored 20 points apiece to lead top-seeded Connecticut (28-4) to its first postseason win in three years.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun missed the game because he wasn’t feeling well and was hospitalized for tests. He will be kept overnight for observation.

No. 2 Memphis 81, No. 15 Cal State Northridge 70: At Kansas City, Mo., Roburt Sallie, averaging 4.5 points all year for Memphis, scored 35 and the Tigers (32-3) beat the plucky Matadors, dodging what would have been one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

No. 5 Purdue 61, No. 12 Northern Iowa 56: At Portland, Ore., E’Twaun Moore had 17 points and Purdue (26-9) held off a late charge to advance.

No. 9 Texas A&M 79, No. 8 BYU 66: At Philadelphia, Bryan Davis scored 21, Donald Sloan had 14 and the Aggies (24-9) handed the Cougars their seventh straight opening-round loss in a rematch from last year.

East Regional

No. 2 Duke 86, No. 15 Binghamton 62: At Greensboro, N.C., Jon Scheyer scored 15 points to lead six players in double figures, and the Blue Devils (29-6) made Binghamton’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament a quick one.

No. 3 Villanova 80, No. 14 American 67: At Philadelphia, Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham each scored 25 points, and Villanova rallied from a 14-point deficit.

The Wildcats (27-7) needed a late 19-2 run to win.

No. 7 Texas 76, No. 10 Minnesota 62: At Greensboro, N.C., A.J. Abrams hit eight 3-pointers and scored 26 points to help Texas (23-11) win.

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