Illinois uses defense, balanced scoring to thwart Duke 83-68


Photo Courtesy of Atlantic Coast Conference

Da’Monte Williams is hyped after a play in Illinois’ game against Duke on Tuesday. The Illini won 83-68.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

Heading into its matchup against No. 2 Baylor, Illinois was searching for a signature win. A win that alerts the rest of the country “we’re here and we’re a legitimate title contender.” They squandered that opportunity but had another major test against No. 10 Duke on Tuesday night.

At historic Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Illini looked ready to seize that opportunity. Illinois got out to a 14-2 run against Duke, and never looked back, winning 83-68.

“It was put up or shut up. It was one of those games,” Dosunmu said. “A lot of talk was with us in the preseason…to come out and have two opportunities to play two really good teams. We accepted the challenge. We came and we played well.”

After a lackadaisical showing against Baylor, Illinois sophomore center Kofi Cockburn got the scoring started with a post-hook inside. The Blue Devils countered with a bucket, but then Illini began to scorch the nets. Consecutive threes by Adam Miller and Da’Monte Williams jump-started a 12-0 stretch.

Role players making threes was a key for Illinois throughout the night. After going 0-10 in the past two games from deep, Miller drained all three of his attempts in the first half. Senior Trent Frazier has shot the ball well this year but in a limited capacity. But the senior showed his experience, hitting two crucial threes in the first half to silence Duke runs.

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The Blue Devils could string together a few consecutive buckets, but their inability to make shots prohibited them from making the run to help them back into the game. The Blue Devils were 0-7 from three in the first half, while the Illini shot 6-8. Head coach Brad Underwood attributed a large part of that to the team’s in-depth scouting report.

“We felt like we knew who their shooters were and we knew who their non-shooters were,” Underwood said. “That’s something we spent a good amount of time on scouting. Making sure we had a great understanding of that. We were much better today in terms of scouting report detail than we were last Wednesday.”

As expected, Duke came out in the second half with more energy. They used a 2-2-1 full-court press to force some Illinois turnovers and convert in transition. Four Illini turnovers in six possessions led to a 9-0 Blue Devil run and cut the lead to eight. But Dosunmu countered with a mid-range shot. Duke’s Matthew Hurt, its best shooter, had a wide-open three to cut the lead to seven. But like a majority of Duke’s shots from deep on Tuesday, it bounced off the rim and led to an Illinois fastbreak.

Last season, Dosunmu had to often bail his team out in these big games. But Illinois showed its improved balance, with six players in double-figures, led by the Chicago native’s 18. The potential NBA player wanted to get others involved first and pick his spots later on, like a current NBA star.

“I had that type of game where I just let the game come to me,” Dosunmu said. “I just play off my instinct, play off my feel. Had that mindset where I get my teammates involved, kind of like how Luka (Doncic) plays.”

Duke is, by no means, Baylor. They are a team featuring five freshmen and a graduate transfer. They had less practice time than most teams, given they did not get on the court until August. But to Illinois, that didn’t matter. The Illini took it to the youthful Blue Devils on Tuesday for 40 straight minutes, showcasing the country what they are capable of.

“We had a different presence about us today than we did in Indy,” Underwood said. “We were too tight. It’s like we hadn’t been on the stage…I liked our mental approach today. I thought it was really good. That’s having some veterans having been there before. We came into Cameron Indoor and found a way to win.”