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Some things are bigger than basketball. The annual Jimmy V Classic, named after Jim Valvano, NC State’s famously enthusiastic men’s basketball coach, began 29 years ago to raise money for cancer. This year, the event returned to Madison Square Garden for its 20th year with an epic college basketball double header: Illinois’ Fighting Illini (ranked No. 20) battling Florida Atlantic’s Owls (11), and North Carolina’s Tar Heels (9) facing off with the reigning NCAA national champions, the UConn Huskies (5). 

In the first matchup, the Fighting Illini shot 63 percent from the field and Terrence Shannon, Jr. and Marcus Domask had career highs of 33 points each to upset the Owls, 98-89. Shannon Jr. shot 10–14 and was 11–13 from the foul line. 

The FAU Owls had a reason to feel confident at MSG. Last year, they punched their ticket to the Final Four there with a win over Kansas State. This year, FAU returns 14 of its 15 players and are one of the best passing teams in the country. 

After uncharacteristic traveling calls—and despite 7' 1" Junior forward Vlad Goldin getting in foul trouble early—FAU led at the half 42–39. Goldin picked up his third foul at the 16:30 mark of the second half, and Illinois capitalized on their size advantage. FAU’s defense, especially with Goldin on the bench, seemed to have no answer for Marcus Domask and Shannon Terrence, Jr. 

FAU battled back from double-digit deficits more than once. They clawed as close as 89–87 after Alijah Martin's three-point bucket with 2:34 in regulation, but Illinois connected on nine of 10 free throws to seal the win. Despite five Owls scoring in double digits, it wouldn’t be enough.

In the second clash of the night, Dan Hurley’s UConn Huskies overwhelmed Hubert Davis’s Tar Heels 87–76. Coming off a road loss to Kansas, the Huskies out-hustled the Tar Heels and dominated the glass, beating UNC 43–33 in rebounds. Cam Spencer led the Huskies with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.

Both teams came into the matchup with a record of 7–1. Although UConn’s Tristen Newton, Donovan Clingan, and Samson Johnson each racked up two fouls in the first half, the Tar Heels weren’t able to capitalize, and the Huskies went to the locker room at half with a 44–39 lead. 

After the half, UConn’s sharp shooter Alex Karaban connected on his first three pointer of the game, igniting a run of four three-pointers in the first four minutes. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels struggled to connect with the basket. RJ Davis led the Tar Heels with 26 points, and Armondo Bacot had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, but Bacot’s missed free throws and layups were the name of the game. He went 4–12 from the field and 5–10 from the stripe. 

After the game, UConn’s players were clear on what they were playing for.

"We are using basketball as an opportunity to spread a message," Karaban said, "Using our program and North Carolina’s program to be on the biggest stage to help bring awareness toward cancer and the Jimmy V Foundation. There is no better environment.”