Illinois defeats Hawaii 66-53 at home Monday

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Jonathan Bonaguro

Freshman center Kofi Cockburn prepares to shoot a free throw during Illinois game against Hawaii at State Farm Center on Monday. Illinois won 66-53.

By Gabby Hajduk, Staff Writer

After a week-long break, the Illinois men’s basketball team hosted Hawaii to begin its five-game nonconference homestand on Monday. A slow offensive start stalled both teams, but the Illini broke away in the second half to beat the Rainbow Warriors 66-53.

Freshman Kofi Cockburn had another dominant night, leading the Illini with 15 points and 14 rebounds. The center went just one-for-seven from the field in the first half then shot 63% in the second. Cockburn recorded his third double-double in just four games this season.

“I just love my guys,” Cockburn said. “I went to the locker room (at halftime), kind of had my head down. They came and picked me up, motivated me. They told me what to do, to slow down. There’s always there for me, and I appreciate that. I came out and did what they told me to do.”

Junior Trent Frazier and sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili also scored in the double digits with 13 and 10 points, respectively. Frazier was perfect from the free-throw line with five attempts.

While his offensive production has been quiet this season, senior Kipper Nichols came alive with nine points off the bench. Sophomore Alan Griffin scored Illinois’ last three bench points and added five rebounds.

“Not only Kipper, but Alan was huge,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “We were number two in the country in offensive rebounding, and we just stood around the first half and didn’t attack the glass. (We) made some early substitutions. Alan came in and gave us a huge lift. Kipper got some opportunities. We know Kipper can score the basketball, and he’s an excellent passer. His productivity tonight was vital, and we need that consistently from him.”

Both teams struggled to find their groove in the first half. Illinois and Hawaii were just 1-for-14 combined in nearly the first five minutes of the game. While the tough defense kept Hawaii from making a run, the Illini hurt themselves on offense with 10 first-half turnovers.

Controlling the ball has been a constant issue for the Illini this season as they average 19.5 turnovers per game compared to their opponent’s 15.

Illinois took better care of the ball in the second half with just six turnovers.

“(We) can’t turn the ball over like we did in the first half, but then we go 15 minutes in the second half without one,” Underwood said. “You see how good our defense was and you see a little improvement in the offensive end, a little IQ, a little bit of execution. We got Kofi touches with some movement, got Giorgi some opportunities, got Kipper some opportunities. We got some ball screen action, guys going down to the rim, so everything started to flow a little bit.”

Underwood has been impressed with his team’s defensive efforts all season and was pleased with the Illini’s ability to shut down a strong three-point shooting team.

Before Monday night’s game, Hawaii was shooting about 41% from the three-point line but was held to just 13.6% against Illinois. The Illini held the Rainbow Warriors to 37.5% shooting from the field.

Illinois sits at 3-1 and will continue their home stretch on Wednesday against The Citadel with an 8 p.m. tipoff.

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