Player grades: Dosunmu, Cockburn lead balanced attack in Illini win

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Photo Courtesy of UIUC Men's Basketball Twitter

Junior Ayo Dosunmu dribbles the ball during the game against Rutgers on March 12. Dosunmu’s 23 points, five rebounds and six assists were huge in the Illini’s 90-68 win over the Scarlet Knights.

By Gabby Hajduk, Former Sports Editor

The last time Illinois basketball played in the Big Ten Tournament, it was the 11-seed and lost its second game to Iowa by 21 points which ended the season. About two years later, the Illini entered the conference tournament on Friday as the 2-seed with a double-bye and dominated Rutgers to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2010.

Behind a balanced offensive attack led by Ayo Dosunmu, the Illini put on a clinic, featuring rim-shaking dunks, crafty alley-oops and contested layups. While the Illini defense broke down a bit in the paint, allowing Rutgers to score 36 points in the paint, the tough perimeter defense forced the Scarlet Knights into a plethora of bad shots.

Let’s take a look at eight Illinois players’ performances against Rutgers on Friday. While head coach Brad Underwood emptied the bench near the end of the game, several players did not get enough minutes to be graded, but I will shout out Tyler Underwood for burying a deep three.

Ayo Dosunmu: A+

Masked Dosunmu was back in action and didn’t disappoint at all. In a 23-point performance on 8-11 shooting, Dosunmu pushed his team to a sizeable win and proved why playoff Ayo is a dangerous specimen.

Dosunmu made his first five shots of the game, helping the Illini to an early lead that they held onto. The junior guard also made his teammates better, as always, dishing out six assists. He also grabbed five rebounds and played really solid defense on Rutgers guard Geo Baker, who scored 10 points in the loss.

While the Illini proved at the end of the season they could compete and win without Dosunmu, playoff Ayo brings a whole different level, and Illinois will need its star to be on every night. Friday night was the perfect start to (hopefully) a historic postseason run.

Adam Miller: A

While the Illini freshman has had inconsistency issues throughout the season, Miller had one of his more consistent nights to start the tournament. Finishing with 12 points — five in the first half, seven in the second — Miller drained two of Illinois’ five 3-pointers.

Miller also showed why he’ll be a dynamic guard in the years to come, recording five rebounds and two assists in the win. He also was one of the Illini’s top defenders, grabbing two steals and leading the team with a +/- of 21.

The freshman guard is known for his 3-point shooting abilities, but Illinois will need his defensive intensity as the games get tougher down the stretch.

Trent Frazier: A

Frazier was his usual self on Friday night, helping Illinois hold Rutgers to just 68 points and Jacob Young to 13 points on 6-13 shooting. Frazier also forced Young into five turnovers.

The Illini senior was also efficient on the offensive end, scoring eight points while dishing out four assists, a team second-best behind Dosunmu. While Frazier was off from deep against Rutgers, going 0-2 from three, the Illini didn’t necessarily need his clutch treys on Friday.

With Illinois potentially playing Iowa, whose guards can get hot from deep, Frazier will need to be prepared to counter with his own threes while also defending the perimeter tightly.

Jacob Grandison: A-

Like the rest of the starters, Grandison had a strong outing, scoring eight points on 3-5 shooting. The junior also did what he does best, which is hustle plays. Grandison helped the Illini to 14 second-chance points by grabbing a couple offensive rebounds.

While Grandison will never be a 20-point performance guy for the Illini, his baskets here and there make defenses respect him, helping the Illinois offense run smoothly. His defensive intensity will also play a big factor for the Illini later in the tournament and during March Madness.

Kofi Cockburn: A+

Cockburn completely dominated Rutgers’ bigs on Friday night. The Illini sophomore forced both of the Scarlet Knights’ centers, Myles Johnson and Clifford Omoruyi, into early foul trouble, allowing the Illini to build a sizeable lead before halftime.

Cockburn finished the night with another double-double — 18 points, 12 rebounds — but most importantly, he grabbed seven offensive rebounds, slamming in the putbacks multiple times. The center’s defense was also solid, recording two steals and a block while limiting Johnson to six points.

Things will only get tougher for Cockburn, however, as the Illini might come across Luka Garza and/or Hunter Dickinson, some of the best bigs in the conference and the country.

Andre Curbelo: B

Two early fouls from Curbelo limited his playing time against the Scarlet Knights, though the freshman still finished with seven points, three of those coming from the free throw line. Curbelo only had one assist, but he grabbed two rebounds in the win.

Limiting those fouls will be crucial for Curbelo going forward, as it’s obvious the Illini offense is more dynamic with the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year on the court.

Da’Monte Williams: A

While Williams’ defense was solid as usual, his offense was particularly efficient on Friday, finishing with nine points while hitting two of Illinois’ five treys. He also was 3-4 from the free throw line, while the rest of his team struggled from the line.

Williams also grabbed five rebounds, including one on the offensive end. Those random 3-pointers from the senior will be huge when the Illini are in closer games later in the postseason.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili: B

Bezhanishvili didn’t play much due to Cockburn dominating and staying out of foul trouble, recording just 10 minutes on the court. His playing time wasn’t very efficient, however, as he got burned in the paint a couple times and recorded just two points and three rebounds.

 

@gabby_h11

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