Efficient shooting from three, big nights from Cockburn, Plummer see Illinois men’s basketball take down Notre Dame

Illinois+senior+DaMonte+Williams+looks+for+a+teammate+to+pass+during+the+teams+game+against+Notre+Dame+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Nov.+29.

Ryan Ash

Illinois senior Da’Monte Williams looks for a teammate to pass during the team’s game against Notre Dame at State Farm Center on Nov. 29.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Behind 28 points from Kofi Cockburn and 21 from Alfonso Plummer, Illinois took down Notre Dame, 82-72, in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge at State Farm Center on Monday night.

Despite several key players reportedly ruled out prior to the game, Andre Curbelo and Austin Hutcherson were the only Illini who did not dress, with Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison both active, though the usual starters instead came off the bench.

Frazier says he didn’t participate in any basketball-related activities prior to Monday night.

“I haven’t done anything basketball-wise at 100%, but I mean that’s what this is about,” Frazier said. “My guys needed me, they trusted me and I wanted to go out there and give my all and do whatever I could do to help my team win.”

In the opening minutes, both teams looked lethal from the 3-point line, with Da’Monte Williams, RJ Melendez and Luke Goode all getting their first shots of the evening to fall from deep. Notre Dame forward Nate Laszewski proved a challenge for the Illini defense, scoring eight of his team’s first 12 points to open up a 12-9 Fighting Irish lead just over four minutes into the evening.

Williams played through a flu bug, Brad Underwood reported after the game, with the Illinois head coach praising his fifth-year senior for fighting through illness and playing 35 minutes.

“I can not say enough about Da’Monte Williams,” Underwood said. “He is the adhesive that has been holding us together. He has played every position, he’s been in every practice; he is tougher than hell and has done anything that it takes for us to win. He’s not gonna let anything like a little flu bug stop him.”

A 7-0 Illinois run turned a three-point deficit into a four-point lead, with Alfonso notching his first points of the night via the 3-point lead before Trent Frazier registered his first points since Nov. 15 on a fast break. Plummer rounded out the run on a contested drive to the rim before finishing off the glass.

Though the two teams traded points the rest of the way, the Illini were able to get going from the 3-point lead, shooting 45% from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes of play. Melendez hit his only two shots from behind the 3-point line, while Jacob Grandison went 2/3 from deep.

Trailing by as many as 11, Notre Dame closed the half with a 7-0 run in the final two minutes of the frame before a Plummer triple, one of nine for the Illini in the first half, as the clock expired sent Illinois into the break with a 7-point lead, 41-34.

The Illini quickly re-established their big lead early in the second half, opening the second 30 minutes on an 11-5 run via six points from Cockburn, Hawkin’s first two points of the night and Plummer’s third trey to jump out to a 52-39 lead less than four minutes into the half.

Notre Dame freshman Blake Wesley started getting hot, scoring his team’s next 14 points, though Illinois continued its improved offensive performance with Plummer, Cockburn, Grandison and Frazier all getting involved to maintain the Illini’s double-digit advantage with under 10 minutes to play.

But the Illinois offense struggled to get going for nearly five minutes, relying on four Cockburn free throws as the team’s only offensive production for over five minutes, during which time Notre Dame cut its deficit to just five, its smallest margin of the half.

Hawkins snapped the skid by Hawkins with under five minutes to play, with the sophomore snagging an offensive rebound before finishing at the rim to put the Illini up, 71-63.

That layup was the final Illinois field goal of the night, with the team’s final 11 points coming from the free-throw line via Cockburn and Plummer, and despite Wesley notching a career-high 24 points, the Illini extended their winning streak to three games heading into their conference opener against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Friday.

With illness issues plaguing the Illini all week, Underwood says before tonight he hadn’t seen Grandison, who scored nine points on 3/4 shooting while playing 18 minutes, since the Illini left Kansas City after the California native was in bed with the flu for several days. He also says Frazier’s status was unknown until he walked in the building today.

Regardless of the circumstances, Underwood says could not be prouder of his squad.

“It was probably one of the five to 10 best wins I’ve been a part of,” Underwood said. “This group took a huge step tonight in being connected, in being together.”

 

@JacksonJanes3

[email protected]