Illinois’ inside dominance, Kofi Cockburn too much for Minnesota in 92-65 victory


Mark Capapas

Kofi Cockburn goes up for a layup in Illinois’ game against Minnesota on Tuesday night. The Illini opened Big Ten play with a 92-65 win over the Golden Gophers.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

For the first four minutes of No. 13 Illinois’ win over Minnesota, Brad Underwood’s squad looked nothing like themselves. The typically intense defensive unit came out lax, allowing the Gophers to score 13 points by the under-16 media timeout.

But after that, Illinois’ defense put together its most complete performance of the season. The Gophers shot 4-28 from the field the remaining 16 minutes of the period, en route to a 40-29 halftime deficit. The Illini would never look back, going on to win 92-65 to open Big Ten play 1-0.

“I think we were very locked in on details tonight scouting report wise,” senior guard Trent Frazier said. “We preached about it a lot after the Mizzou game, going into Big Ten play. With these Big Ten teams, every night it’s going to be a battle. They make you pay for mistakes. So everyone was very locked in on that side of the basketball.”

Minnesota jumped out to an 18-10 lead before Illinois started to click. Freshman guard Andre Curbelo checked in and immediately made an impact. He got to the free-throw line and drained both attempts to cut the lead to six. Kofi Cockburn followed that with a dunk, then Ayo Dosunmu scored in transition, immediately followed by a Cockburn hook shot and the game was tied.

Cockburn proceeded to terrorize the Gophers on the low-block. With starting center Liam Robbins relegated to the bench, Cockburn got bucket after bucket, showing improved touch on hooks. He scored three more consecutive buckets to extend the lead to 24-18. It capped a 14-0 run, in which the Gophers missed 12 straight shots.

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The defensive run was anchored by Cockburn inside, but it was Frazier who took the responsibility of shutting down Minnesota star guard Marcus Carr. Carr, who came in averaging 23.5 points per game, was contained to do just 16 points on 3-13 shooting. The veteran Frazier knew what Carr was capable of, and wanted to shut him down.

“Coach, I got him. I got him,” Frazier told Underwood. “We don’t need to do all the switching. We don’t need to do any of this. I got him”

“I think Trent set the tone,” Underwood told reporters after the game.

The Illini dominated inside all night, outscoring the Gophers 48-14 in the paint. Cockburn continued his impressive outing with a few basket-shaking dunks in the second half. He finished with a career-high 33 points on 12-15 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds. Cockburn believed he had that in himself, and that manifested itself on Wednesday.

“He was dominant,” Underwood said. “Our game plan was going inside to him from the jump and he was very very effective. Did a nice job on the glass as well.”

The defense did not fade in the second stanza. Illinois was flying around the court, contesting shots left and right. Minnesota entered the contest averaging 84.2 points per game on 44.7% shooting from the field. They were stymied to just 65 points on 27.5% shooting from the field.

The offense also shined on Tuesday night with some role players finding their rhythm, Frazier was in double figures for the second time in three games, finishing with 10. Freshman guard Adam Miller hit three second-half treys to finish with 14 points. Curbelo finished with nine points and season-highs in assists (nine) and rebounds (six).

The win was Underwood’s first in a Big Ten season opener. They’ll look to keep that momentum going on Sunday at Penn State.


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