Notes, player grades: Illini men’s basketball tops Terrapins on Ayo Dosunmu night

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Kofi Cockburn waits on defense during Illinois’ game against Maryland at State Farm Center on Thursday. Cockburn had another big game, notching his seventh straight double-double with 23 points and 18 rebounds.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

On the night that former Illini and current Chicago Bull Ayo Dosunmu had his jersey permanently hung in the rafters at State Farm Center, Illinois was able to celebrate the occasion with a win, beating Maryland, 76-64.

Despite taking a 14-point lead in the first half, the Illini actually found themselves trailing at halftime, 34-30. Center Kofi Cockburn found himself in foul trouble with 10:34 to go in the first half with his team winning 21-7. Maryland ended the half on a 27-9 run, led by forward Donta Scott and guard Eric Ayala, and headed into the locker room winning at the break.

But, the lead didn’t last long. Cockburn’s presence was felt in the second half, as the big man finished with 23 points and 18 rebounds, with 16 of the points coming in the second half. Guard Trent Frazier also had a nice second half, going on an 8-0 run of his own, and finished the night with 16 points. 

No Kofi? No offense.

The story of the night for the Illini was the inability to create offense without Kofi Cockburn. He never plays all 40 minutes, but after he missed the final 10:34 of the first half, his team struggled.

The Illini’s last basket came with 6:57 to go in the half, and Maryland took advantage on the other side of the ball, too. They were able to attack the rim and create easier looks all around. This was the longest time Kofi hadn’t seen the floor since his first game of the season.

A situation in which Kofi can’t play his regular minutes will happen again, so head coach Brad Underwood will have to prepare his guys better for the situation. The inability to score was hard to watch, and the defensive side of the ball felt the heat as well.

The Illini got lucky that they were ahead of the Terrapins so much and had a clear advantage when Kofi came back in, because if either of those things weren’t true, Maryland would have won its fifth straight game at State Farm Center.

Slick Trent

Frazier was a lot of fun to watch in the second half, as his personal 8-0 run was the momentum shift in the game. The Illini found themselves down 47-46 with 12 minutes to go, and in the blink of an eye, Illinois led 54-47. 

With Andre Curbelo still out and other scorers such as Alfonso Plummer and Jacob Grandison having off nights, someone had to step up along with Kofi. And fifth-year senior Trent Frazier did just that.

Surrounding Kofi with shooters is a great plan, but the only dent in the armor is that it can force Illinois to live and die by the 3-point line. But, if even one guy is on that night, which was Trent on Thursday, Illinois will be just fine.

Time for some grades.

Kofi Cockburn: A

Top performer? Top spot in the grades. Again. And it wasn’t particularly close in Thursday’s win over Maryland. 

His presence is felt like no one else on the team, and we saw against the Terrapins what the team looks like without Kofi (and Curbelo) on the court. When he was in the game, the team dominated. Cockburn finished the night +28 in the plus/minus.

He shot 9-12 from the field and 5-8 from the charity stripe, and the only reason he didn’t get a perfect grade was because of the foul trouble in the first half. Seven straight double-doubles for the big man, who was once again the clear best player on the floor.

Trent Frazier: A-

The second of two As for the Illini, Frazier bounced back after a poor game against Minnesota and earned himself a high grade for his play against Maryland.

The minus comes from his shooting percentages — 6-14 from the field and 4-11 from three — as he wasn’t very efficient. But his personal 8-0 run was the spark for Illinois to take a double-digit second-half lead, and he stepped up when other guards were having a bad night. He also played all 40 minutes.

Trent came back for a fifth year of college basketball to help this team win, and had he not played the way he did on Thursday, Illinois may have come out with a loss. Frazier steps up when the team needs him to, which is part of the reason Underwood and crew will miss him so much next year.

Jacob Grandison: D

Grandison was on a long stretch of playing great basketball for his role, so I’m not gonna rip on him too much for having a bad night. But it really was a bad night.

The transfer finished with five points and only two rebounds, shooting 2-12 from the field and 1-5 from three. His 3-point make was a lucky bank shot early in the first half, and his other bucker was a baseline jumper.

Grandison’s shot selection was poor, he missed 10 shots and was unable to impact the game with good passing, either. He didn’t kill his team, but he was ineffective. Like I said, though, this is his first bad game in over a month, so we’ll forgive him fast. 

Da’Monte Williams: B

Alright, Da’Monte. Two days after setting his season high in points, nine, he came back and tied his season high. The fifth-year senior finished with nine points, five rebounds and two assists.

He wasn’t the most efficient, shooting 3-9 from the field and 1-4 from three, but we saw Da’Monte score in multiple ways Thursday night. He drove to the bucket, hit a three and was 2-2 from the free-throw line. 

Per usual, he also had a very nice night defensively, and his stat line represents the ultimate glue guy that he is. 

Alfonso Plummer: C+

I may be being hard on Plummer, because he did score 12 points while adding four boards and three assists, but he missed 10 shots, shooting 4-14 from the field.

When Illinois needed a basket late in the first half, Plummer was one of the guys that couldn’t get anything to fall. He made two of his eight attempted threes on the night but, again, not super efficient.

My grade reflects how highly I think of Plummer. He continues to improve his inside game, as he got to the basket nicely on a drive, and his defense is also getting better. But Illinois won’t win many big games with your star shooter missing ten makeable shots. 

Omar Payne: B

In his five minutes on the floor, Payne had a dunk, went to the free-throw line and grabbed a board. His three points is the most he’s scored since the Marquette game on Nov. 15. 

He only played five minutes, though, because he also was in foul trouble in the first half, and then Kofi didn’t go to the bench at all in the latter half of the game.

It was nice to see some aggressiveness on offense out of Payne, because it’s almost a guarantee that he’ll have to step in for Kofi at some point this season when the big man is in foul trouble. Just show improvement, and fans will be pleased.

Coleman Hawkins: B+

Hawkins played a very nice game Thursday against Maryland. In his 19 minutes, he scored an efficient eight points, but more importantly, six of his eight rebounds were offensive boards. 

When he isn’t trying to do too much on the floor, Coleman has been very good. He’s improved a lot from where he was last season, but at times he tries more than he’s capable of. That wasn’t the case against the Terps.

He played his role nicely, scored on the offensive glass a couple times and kept possessions alive. Those are winning plays.

Final note

The lack of offense with Kofi out wasn’t encouraging by any means. With Curbelo out as well, this was the first time Illinois had to play more than a few consecutive minutes without their crafty guard or dominant big man, and it was very telling.

For some of our die-heart fans that watched the 2005 national championship game against North Carolina, Thursday’s game against Maryland reminded me a little of that. No, I’m not old enough to remember the game — I’m 21 — but I have watched it on YouTube.

In ‘05, big man James Augustine was in foul trouble in the first half against a Tar Heel team with very skilled bigs, and Carolina went into the half up by 13. Unlike Thursday’s game against Maryland with Kofi, however, Augustine stayed in foul trouble in the second half and fouled out. The Big Ten Tournament MVP scored zero points and played only nine minutes, which was one of, if not the, main reason the Illini lost.

Fortunately for Illinois against Maryland, Kofi stayed out of foul trouble in the second half, and Maryland’s big men aren’t great. But, if a situation happens like it did to Illinois in 2005 where they are facing a team with good big men, this year’s Illini could be in trouble. We’ll see how Underwood and crew prepare the team for the next time the Illini are faced with a situation where Kofi can’t play.

@JPietsch14

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