Alfonso Plummer continues to provide spark, offensive efficiency in Illinois’ Big Ten opener

Alfonso+Plummer+drives+to+the+basket+during+Illinois+mens+basketballs+86-51+win+over+Rutgers+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Friday.+Plummer+has+been+elite+for+the+Illini+this+season%2C+establishing+himself+as+a+primary+scorer.

Cameron Krasucki

Alfonso Plummer drives to the basket during Illinois men’s basketball’s 86-51 win over Rutgers at State Farm Center on Friday. Plummer has been elite for the Illini this season, establishing himself as a primary scorer.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

When Alfonso Plummer transferred to Illinois, it wasn’t clear what his role would be. The return of senior Trent Frazer muddied the water even more. Now that conference play is here, Plummer’s role couldn’t be more clear.

Plummer led Illinois with 24 points on 8/15 shooting as the Illini beat Rutgers, 86-51, on Friday. He has scored at least 21 points in four straight games.

Though he’s known as a 3-point specialist, Plummer shot 5/7 from inside the arc against Rutgers and made five free throws without a miss.

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood admitted that Plummer has surprised him. 

“Do you want the ball in his hands all the time, or do you want him coming off screens, which he is elite at?” Underwood said. “He’s very good at getting downhill … and finishes at an alarmingly high rate.”

On Friday, Plummer benefited heavily from the team around him executing on a very high level. Jacob Grandison scored 16 points in 19 minutes, and Kofi Cockburn scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, recording his third double-double of the year.

Cockburn also added two assists and several hockey assists. He once again displayed improved passing vision and more confidence making passes from the post. If a few more shots went in, he could have finished with five or more assists. 

This is an element the Illini offense has lacked, and the benefits were obvious.

“Coach complimented us on our defense after the game, and the ball was poppin’; everybody was getting touches,” Grandison said. “We’re playing as we call it “point five basketball.” … It just kind of manifested itself. You start elevating each other and playing for one another and that’s what you started to see here.”

The Illini found this new groove at the perfect moment, right as Big Ten conference games started. 

Plummer has been hot for a while now. He’s averaging 15 points per game in eight games, second only to Cockburn, who has scored 24 points per game in just five games. 

Plummer has scored fewer points than Cockburn, but he’s also played less minutes and taken half as many free throws, so don’t let that cloud your view of his impact. 

Plummer has been just as important to the offense as Cockburn. Up to this point, he’s provided the only consistent scoring aside from Cockburn. 

He regularly takes shots with high degrees of difficulty. He’ll shoot coming off a screen, with a hand in his face, with a hand covering his eyes and he’d probably shoot if the defense blindfolded him. That is what makes his start to the season so impressive. 

At 6-foot-1, he’s shot 42% from three while being guarded, mostly, by people several inches taller than him. 

Friday was actually an off night for Plummer. Shooting 3/8 from three, 37.5%, actually brought his percentage down one point. 

Did I mention that he hasn’t missed a free throw this season in 23 attempts? 

Right now, he looks like a primary scorer. He’s been efficient at all three levels, and players like that are invaluable. But the question remains whether this is the Alfonso Plummer the Illini will get all year. The Illini seem pretty confident that it is.

“It’s legit,” Hawkins said. “Every day.”

 

@JonesChristianT

[email protected]