Notes, player grades: Illinois men’s basketball handles Rutgers, earns 35-point victory at home

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Cameron Krasucki

Illinois guard Alfonso Plummer guards Caleb McConnell during the game against Rutgers on Saturday at State Farm Center. Plummer led the Illini with a game-high 24 points in the 86-51 win.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

Despite being without point guard Andre Curbelo for the second straight game, the Illini came out firing Monday night, shooting nearly 50% from the field in a 86-51 win over the Scarlet Knights.

The win came in Illinois’ first conference game of the season, putting them at 1-0 on the year. This is the Illini’s second straight season opening up conference play with a win.

The night once again belonged to guard Alfonso Plummer, who put up his fourth straight 20-plus point game, totaling 24 on the night. Jacob Grandison and Kofi Cockburn also reached double figures, scoring 16 and 13, respectively. Cockburn also earned a double-double, finishing the night with a season-high 15 rebounds. 

No Curbelo? No problem.

Curbelo is one of, if not, the, best passer in the country when he’s on, which goes along with his incredible ability to facilitate. Despite his absence, Illinois has won both games he’s been out. And, in dominating fashion over Rutgers.

What the Illini would expect to miss most would be his assist numbers, but the team has made up for it. Illinois dished out 19 assists on Monday, with Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams notching five each.

When Curbelo returns, Illinois’ passing game should be that much better. But in spite of his absence, the Illini have found a way to move the ball around, move around the defense and score as well as they have all season.

Awesome Alfonso

I don’t think Illini fans would have expected it this early in the year, but Plummer has been the best guard on the floor for Illinois in most games this season. With 24 more points tonight, he’s scored 96 points in his last four games, each resulting in an Illinois win.

Tonight, he was 8/15 from the field, 3/8 from three and 5/5 from the free throw line. He is shooting 45% from the field so far this season, 43% from three and 100% from the charity stripe. 

If Plummer can keep up his inside and outside scoring throughout conference play, Illinois has a real shot of winning a Big Ten title. Brad Underwood was excited to bring in the Utah transfer and said he is the best shooter he’s ever coached, and Plummer is proving to be exactly that.

Alfonso Plummer: A

Let’s start with the man of the night. Like I just said, he was awesome tonight and has been this year. Another efficient game ending with 20+ points and a win.

When Plummer is on, the team has scored well. It’s still early, but Plummer may end the year as one of the most important players, as he has been thus far.

Kofi Cockburn: B+

The big man had another very solid night. He didn’t put up as many points as he usually does, but that was for good reason.

He drew double-teams the whole night and was able to show off some improved passing skills. He only finished with two assists, but if assists were scored the way they are in hockey, Cockburn would have had a bunch more.

A double-double capped off another good night for the best big man in the country.

Trent Frazier: C+

Trent had a bit of an off night, shooting 2/10 from the field and scoring six points. His inefficiency is largely due to Rutgers guard Paul Mulcahy playing very solid defense against the guard, but Frazier could have done a better job getting by him.

He did have five assists, which is very productive in itself. He also did his thing on the defensive side of the ball. But, Frazier didn’t shoot well last year either and will have to find a groove for when Plummer slows down.

Jacob Grandison: A

Off the bench, the two-way guard was great. In just 18 minutes on the floor, he scored 16 points, and did so very efficiently, shooting 7/11 from the field and 2/5 from three.

He also played well on defense, covering multiple positions throughout the night. Grandison is a very nice spark off the bench for the Illini when he’s playing well, and he had his best game of the season thus far Monday night.

Da’Monte Williams: B

He’s the ultimate glue guy. Great defense, very good 3-point shooter and an all-time hustle man. That was Williams tonight.

He shot 2/6 from the field, both makes being threes, and added on four rebounds and five assists. And, as usual, his defense was great. He got a little wild in his shot attempts in the middle part of the game and still struggles to score inside, as he showed tonight, but overall Williams was solid and did his thing.

Coleman Hawkins: A-

Major props to Coleman Hawkins for holding Rutgers’ best player, Ron Harper Jr., to three points on 1/9 shooting. You may be surprised to see the grade this high, but Harper Jr. has killed Illinois in the past, and Hawkins held him down.

The sophomore added nine points on offense, including a three at the beginning of the game, and caught another lob dunk, which he seems to do just about every game now.

If Coleman can be the guy to cover the other teams’ good stretch-four, which the Illini have missed in the past few years, they will be that much better defensively on an already very good defensive team.

Luke Goode: B+

I love this guy. In 10 minutes, Goode had six points, shooting 2/4 from three. He has played his role extremely well so far this season.

He plays hard on defense, leads group huddles and has been very efficient from the 3-point line. His minutes aren’t up much yet, but he’s been the most impressive of the freshman so far and is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

Omar Payne: B

Most impressive game of the year so far for Payne. He only played 11 minutes, but his defensive presence was felt.

He had seven rebounds and one major block in his time on the floor, dominating the paint on the defensive end. He didn’t put up a shot, turned the ball over and continues to give absolutely nothing offensively, but he was great on defense in the time he played against Rutgers.

@JPietsch14

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