No. 11 Illinois men’s basketball beats Jackson State despite missing several key contributors


Cameron Krasucki

Alfonso Plummer records a steal during the first half of Illinois’ game against Jackson State at State Farm Center on Tuesday. The Illini opened their regular season with an emphatic 71-47 win over the visiting Tigers.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Without the likes of Kofi Cockburn, Andre Curbelo, Austin Hutcherson and Trent Frazier, No. 11 Illinois used a hot start to take down Jackson State, 71-47, on Tuesday night at State Farm Center in the team’s 2021-2022 regular-season opener.

Missing their starting point guard, center and biggest 3-point threat, Illinois needed big contributions from its typical bench players.

And, that’s exactly what it got, with Jacob Grandison notching a career-best 20 points while shooting 70% from the field, while Coleman Hawkins added a career-high 13 points in the 24-point win.

“I’m ecstatic with that locker room tonight,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “We set out to play really, really hard, guard and rebound the basketball, and we felt like we had to do that against a team that we knew was one of the better teams in the country.”

Grandison got the offense going early, making a contested layup and drawing a foul, giving the Illini an early 3-0 lead just over two minutes into the game.

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Missing several key threats on offense, Illinois used that spark to go on a 12-0 run to open the night, with Omar Payne, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Luke Goode finding an early groove.

After Jackson State got on the board for the first time six-and-a-half minutes into the first half, Illinois went on another big run to open up a commanding 21-2 lead after just over 10 minutes.

But, the offense struggled the rest of the way, scoring nine points to close the half, five of which came from the free-throw line. Despite going over six minutes without a field goal, the Illini headed into halftime with a 30-17 lead, with Coleman Hawkins’ eight points and three steals, Jacob Grandison’s five points and Bosmans-Verdonk’s five points and five rebounds the biggest reasons why Illinois took a 13-point lead into the break.

Bosmans-Verdonk knew he would see more minutes due to Cockburn’s suspension, though he says he didn’t approach the game any differently.

“Something I’ve been doing for the last two years is making sure I’m ready when my name is called,” Bosmans-Verdonk said. “Knowing Kofi was out, obviously (I) expected to play a little more. … I was as locked in to the scouting report as I always was, and I think that’s for everybody. Everybody had to step up, even the freshmen.”

The Illini brought the energy on the defensive end of the court, notching nine steals and two blocks during the first 20 minutes of action.  

After going 0/4 from the field in the first half, Da’Monte Williams hit a 3-pointer less than a minute, while Illinois used six straight points from Grandison to open up a 16-point lead four minutes into the second half.

Illinois also started to find its groove from beyond the arc. Making just two treys in the opening 20 minutes, the Illini got hot from deep, hitting three 3-pointers after less than nine minutes before finishing the half with seven triples.

Grandison found a second gear in the second half, notching a career-high 20 points, 15 of which came in the second half. 

“My mindset was the same it always is,” Grandison said. “Obviously, I knew we had a lot of scorers out, but my mentality wasn’t even to come in and score at all; it was to know my assignment, on defense first.”

Despite the blowout victory, Illinois recorded 19 turnovers, though the Illini grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and scored 17 second-chance points.

Illinois improves to 1-0 with the win, and it will return to action on Friday night against Arkansas State.



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