Roadkill: Illinois men’s basketball uses big second half to dominate Minnesota away from home

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Junior center Kofi Cockburn guards the paint during the first half of Illinois men’s basketball’s game against Minnesota in Minneapolis on Tuesday night.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Behind a dominant second-half display from junior center Kofi Cockburn, who registered his sixth straight double-double with 29 points and 10 rebounds, Illinois cruised to a 76-53 victory over Minnesota in Minneapolis. The win saw the Illini improve to 3-0 in conference play, tying them for first in the Big Ten, and 10-3 overall.

After 10 players tested positive for COVID-19 following a return from Christmas break, Illinois had not played a game since Dec. 22, an 88-63 win over Missouri in St. Louis. The Illini had one game canceled and another rescheduled during its program’s pause.

You would never be able to tell Illinois hadn’t played a game in nearly two weeks during the opening minutes of the first half. The Illini used two triples from Jacob Grandison, five early points from Kofi Cockburn and a wild layup that Alfonso Plummer got to fall to take a 13-5 lead less than five minutes into the first half.

Illinois continued to get shots to fall, with Plummer, Cockburn, Grandison and Da’Monte Williams all finding their groove midway through the first half as the Illini took a 16-point advantage, their biggest lead of the opening 20 minutes of action.

After scoring 28 points through 10 minutes of play, the Illinois offense struggled, with Minnesota closing the half on a 15-10 run. The Illini went over six minutes near the end of the first half without a field goal, though it ran into halftime with a double-digit lead as they led 41-30 with 20 minutes left to play.

Cockburn led all scorers with 12 points on 5/7 shooting, while Plummer added 10 points despite not hitting a single 3-pointer, going 0/3 from beyond the arc in the first half.

A 9-0 Illini run to open the second half saw the visitors take their largest lead of the evening, with Cockburn notching five while Trent Frazier and Grandison each made layups to give Illinois a 50-30 lead with under 17 minutes to play.

That advantage would only continue to grow, with Illinois outplaying Minnesota on both ends of the court as it extended its lead to 28 with nine minutes left behind Frazier’s first triple of the game and Cockburn’s dominance in the paint.

Though Cockburn continued to produce on the offensive end, he also took control of the paint on defense, notching four blocks, his highest mark of the season. 

The Golden Gophers closed the game on a 17-12 run, but it wasn’t enough to close their 28-point deficit as the Illini walked out of Minneapolis with a 23-point win.

 

@JacksonJanes3

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