Notes, player grades: Illini tame Tigers to earn Braggin’ Rights win for first time since 2017

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Alfonso Plummer hugs the Braggin’ Rights trophy after Illinois beat Missouri, 88-63, on Wednesday in St. Louis. Kofi Cockburn was the star of the show once again, bu everyone stepped up and played well in the blowout victory.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

In the annual Braggin’ Rights series, Illinois was able to control the game against Missouri from start to finish, earning an 88-63 victory.

This is Brad Underwood’s second Braggin’ Rights victory in his five years at Illinois, as he dropped three straight after defeating Missouri in his opening season. The 25-point win is the largest margin of victory since the Illini won by 32 back in 2005.

Kofi Cockburn led the way for Illinois, finishing with a monster 25 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes. Alfonso Plummer once again impressed, scoring 22 points, while Trent Frazier poured in 15 of his own. 

Illinois shot an impressive 48% from 3-point range and 57% from the field while holding Missouri to just 26% from three and 36.5% from the field.

39%

This represents the percentage of shots the Illini are making from behind the arc this year. A quick translation: very good.

Brad Underwood has a plan, and that’s to either have Cockburn post up down low or kick out for a three, and the shooters on the floor have surely done their job, especially as of late. Tons of credit to Plummer, Frazier and Jacob Grandison.

It’s a whole team effort, though. Da’Monte Williams, Coleman Hawkins, and even freshmen Luke Goode, Brandin Podziemski and RJ Melendez have contributed to shot-making from three, which makes this team deep and deadly.

If Illinois wants to make a deep tournament run, it’ll need to continue to shoot the ball well. This stat is very encouraging. Especially with Andre Curbelo still out, if this number stays close to 39%, Illinois is in good shape for the near future. 

COVID caution

Only six players played double-digit minutes for Illinois against Mizzou, and that’s without anyone playing more than 31. Cockburn, Frazier, Plummer, Grandison and Williams, a.k.a. the starters, and Hawkins all played at least 18 minutes. Omar Payne was the next closest with nine. The three freshmen each played at least six minutes, and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk played four. 

The point I’m getting at here is Illinois isn’t the deepest team in the country, and with COVID-19 hitting sports teams left and right, I’m worried about potentially depth issues if guys have to miss time because they get sick.

Curbelo will remain out for a while, so if a starter gets hurt, at least one person will have to step up. Will it be Omar Payne? One of the freshmen? BBV? There’s no clear answer right now, but even in a blowout, we didn’t see many people play meaningful minutes. We’ll see if that changes, or how Brad Underwood replaces minutes if a key player does get sick.

Time for some (very high) grades.

Kofi Cockburn: A

No surprises here.

The big man was dominant, scoring a game-high 25 points while also securing another double-double, the 35th in his career.

He only shot 9/15 from the field, which is why he didn’t get a “+” added at the end, but his presence was still heavily felt against a team that didn’t have an answer for him. He dominated anyone that tried to cover him and looked very comfortable throughout.

The footwork was good, his hook shot went in and the 7-footer spared no rim while throwing down multiple big dunks. Good stuff Wednesday night from the most dominant big man in the country. 

Trent Frazier: A

Starting with my favorite part of his performance against the Tigers: his defense.

Javon Pickett, who committed to Illinois the same year as Frazier but decommitted when Underwood was named coach, has performed very well in this rivalry over the past four years. That ended on Wednesday.

Frazier locked down the guard, holding him to just three points on 1/8 shooting from the field. Trent takes pride in being a good defender, and I absolutely love it.

He also scored 15 points on offense, shooting 6/10 from the field and 3/7 from three, impressing from behind the arc and with some drives inside. Very nice.

Jacob Grandison: A

I know this is getting repetitive, but let’s look at the stats.

Grandison shot 3/5 from three and 3/7 from the field, played good defense and had a team-high six assists along with four rebounds. He was efficient and did a bit of everything.

Grandison replaced Hawkins in the starting lineup the past two games and has been great. I would argue that when Curbelo comes back, Grandison can’t leave the starting lineup. He’s been that important and does a bit of everything very well. His shooting is improved, and I love the way he contributes.

Da’Monte Williams: B

Williams plays very good defense and had three rebounds and assists, but I didn’t love how passive he was in his shot-taking. He was only 1/2 from three.

This is the guy that led the nation in 3-point percentage last year. I know the Illini have shot very well this year, especially as of late, but Williams is a very good shooter and should shoot when he’s open. He doesn’t have an extreme amount of assists, either, that prove his extra passing is making that big of a difference.

That being said, he’s still the ultimate glue guy and plays his role very well. Illinois didn’t need him to score, and he still played a good game.

Coleman Hawkins: B

Five points, four rebounds, two assists. 2/4 from the field and 1/3 from three. Plus some good defense. Not bad at all.

Hawkins at times lacks confidence, which is why he doesn’t always shoot so much. I would have expected with Illinois up big the entire second half for him to shoot more, but even though he didn’t, it was still a good game.

Hawkins will have to step up as a true scoring threat if Illinois is looking for a Big Ten championship and will have to be competitive with other stretch fours in the league, including Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell. We haven’t seen that yet against real competition, but it can come. 

Alfonso Plummer: A

This guy has been something else. His 22 points came on 8/12 shooting from the field and 3/5 from three. He did miss a free throw, snapping his potential record-breaking streak, but he still finished 3/4 on the night.

His shooting has been great, and he has scored 19+ for the eighth straight game. His defense is also improving, something Brad Underwood cares about a lot.

The level of shots he makes is difficult, and he is super reliable when left alone. I have no idea why teams haven’t guarded him harder, because the dude is a certified 3-point specialist. He also can hit from inside with a drive. A great asset to this team.

Brandin Podziemski: A

Very nice, Podz! He played the most of the freshman, was the first of the trio off the bench and shot 100% from the field against the Tigers. 

3/3 from the field and 1/1 from three for the guard that I gave a lot of criticism to not too long ago. I thought he couldn’t help this team, but I was wrong. He scored seven points against a Power-5 school and has clearly earned his minutes by practicing hard.

Lots of high grades when you beat a team by 25.

@JPietsch14

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