Fifth-year seniors Williams, Frazier show resilience despite battling injury, illness in win over Notre Dame

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Sydney Laput

Illinois fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier guards Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb during the first half of the Illini’s 82-72 win at State Farm Center on Monday.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Junior Kofi Cockburn scored 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds as Illinois beat Notre Dame, 82-72, at State Farm Center. The Illini snapped a three-game losing streak against the Fighting Irish and extended their home winning streak to nine games.

Cockburn was unstoppable for a fourth straight appearance, at times it appeared as though the Notre Dame bigs weren’t trying. After struggling early, Cockburn connected on five straight attempts in the post, ending the first half with 10 points.

“Can we make him kick it out? Then they banged a bunch down and now you’re digging out of a hole the rest of the way,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. “I give my three frontline guys some credit. … There’s nothing like that in college basketball. He’s the only guy like that.”

At 285 pounds, Cockburn outweighs the heaviest Notre Dame player by 40 lbs., and it showed on Monday. He easily backed down defenders, who rarely received help before he was in position to score. And score he did. 

Cockburn was in his bag tonight, making several highly defended jump hooks off the glass and knocking down a mid-range jumper. He also slammed home arguably his best dunk of the season in the clutch.

Notre Dame’s senior big man Nate Laszewski came into the game leading the ACC with 10.4 rebound per game, but on Monday he grabbed four.

Alfonso Plummer continued his hot streak, scoring 21 points in a team-high 35 minutes. Plummer has scored at least 21 points in three straight games.

The Illini answered Underwood’s call for more effort chasing down rebounds and loose balls. The rebound battle was close, but the effort was obvious where it was non-existent against UT Rio Grande Valley.

Illinois ultimately won the rebound battle by just four, and it scored 11 points off fast breaks, whereas Notre Dame had none. 

Contrary to prior reports, three of the five previously ruled out Illini were available for Monday night’s contest against Notre Dame. Only sophomore Andre Curbelo and grad student Austin Hutcherson were ruled out. 

Seniors Trent Fraizer and Jacob Grandison suited up to the surprise of anyone who’s been following the team. Both played crucial roles in the win against Notre Dame.

Frazier dished out six assists and put in seven points in 32 minutes,while battling upper and lower body injuries. Grandison added nine points and made three 3-pointers on four attempts.

Cockburn said he almost cried when Frazier said he might not play heading into tonight’s game.

“Not just because we needed to win but just the kind of person he is,” Cockburn said. “When he comes on the court, his energy, his leadership’s always right. He knows what to say. … Whenever Trent suits up, I know it’s going to be a great day.”

Underwood raved about Frazier as well, citing his toughness and leadership in the locker as reasons for this team’s success. He called Monday’s win “one of the 5-10 best wins I’ve been a part of.”

“(Trent) hates missing practice; he hates anything that he can’t compete to win at. He literally walked in the coach’s locker room and said, ‘Coach, I’m good for 35 tonight if you need me,’” Underwood said. “As a coach, I think that makes your heart feel pretty good when we know you got a guy like that ready to light it up and go, because that was his mindset.”

Frazier wasn’t the only Illini who showed toughness against Notre Dame, far from it. Senior Da’Monte Williams played 35 minutes while apparently suffering from flu symptoms. Frazier said Williams was throwing up in the locker room during halftime.

For years, Williams has been an often overlooked key contributor to the Illinois basketball program, though part of that is his own doing. Williams doesn’t seek the spotlight, but sometimes the spotlight needs to find him.

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

 

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