Notes, player grades: Illinois men’s basketball falls to Purdue in double-overtime thriller


Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Alfonso Plummer shoots a 3-pointer during Illinois’ game against Purdue at State Farm Center on Monday. Plummer had another solid game, recording 24 points, including six triples.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

In a game that lived up to all the hype, Illinois fell short at home on Monday, losing to the Purdue Boilermakers, 96-88, in a game that saw two overtime periods.

Despite the No. 17 Illini sending the No. 4 Boilermakers to double overtime, Illinois didn’t play all that well. It had trouble guarding 7-foot-4 big man Zach Edey, Kofi Cockburn struggled in multiple ways and Purdue shooters were left open.

Andre Curbelo made his return to the floor for Illinois and played very well. Despite being visibly tired during the later parts of the game, the sophomore guard finished with 20 points and no turnovers. Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk had the best game of his career, stepping up with teammates in foul trouble to play tremendous defense on Edey and Trevion Williams.

Illinois entered halftime down 11 and didn’t start a serious run until about halfway through the second half, so to not play nearly your best against an elite team and still send the game to double overtime shows Brad Underwood’s team has a lot of promise, but it definitely needs some more work.

Curbelo returns

On Monday morning, Andre Curbelo came out to warm up dressed in uniform. Less than an hour before tip, it was announced that he was cleared to return to competition. And the crafty guard made his presence known.

He only played 26 of the total 50 minutes, as he wasn’t as well conditioned due to his absence, but he made the most of his time on the court. I’ve been writing for weeks that when Kofi wasn’t playing well or wasn’t on the court that the Illini were missing something, and that piece was Curbelo. He proved me right. 

He notched 20 points and three assists and six boards on 8-15 shooting. He was able to facilitate offense that Illini fans haven’t seen in a while. I imagine he’ll come off the bench for another game at least, but it will be interesting to see what Underwood does with his trio of talented guards when they’re all playing well as far as the starting lineup goes.

Guarding Sasha

When Illinois beat Purdue at home last season, Boilermaker guard Sasha Stefanovic was held to nine points. On Monday, he scored 22, including five threes, all of which seemed to come at killer moments. 

Stefanovic is a 3-point specialist, and you can’t allow a guy like him to be open from three at any point during the game. Illinois’ guards struggled to do that, though, and the final score reflects that.

When the Illini are playing their best, they make minimal defensive mistakes. There were many mistakes made against Purdue, and leaving Sasha open as much as they did was the main one. That can’t happen in March, or else the Illini will end the season earlier than they’d like to.

Time for some grades.

Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk: A+

Yup. BBV had the game of his life against Purdue, and it was almost fully due to his defense. With Cockburn and Omar Payne both in foul trouble, Bosmans-Verdonk played a career-high 20 minutes to cover the Boilermakers’ two-headed monster at center. And what a job he did.

After Edey got off to a very hot start, BBV helped slow him down and grabbed huge rebounds and even recorded two steals.

His offense wasn’t amazing, but he had four points, and his defensive effort was just too good not to give him an A+. It would have been cool for Illinois to win in BBV’s best game ever, but he earned himself some respect on Monday.

Kofi Cockburn: D

Kofi is supposed to be a National Player of the Year candidate, but he did not look the part whatsoever against Purdue’s big men.

He had just 10 points and five rebounds on 3-9 shooting, was in foul trouble for most of the game and gave up more baskets than you’d expect, especially Edey. 

Kofi needs to play well for Illinois to win big games, especially if the other team has good big men, and he hasn’t been able to do that this year. When Illinois lost to Arizona earlier this season, the offensive story was similar. 

Alfonso Plummer: A-

Plummer’s 3-point shooting was one of the main reasons Illinois was able to stay in the game against Purdue. Despite a slow start from behind the arc, he started to heat up late.

He finished with 24 points on 6-12 shooting from three, hitting big threes down the stretch to help force both overtime periods. He shot 8-19 on the day from the field but had a big layup late in the first overtime to force a second. 

He did get lost a couple times defensively, including allowing a key back-cut basket by the Boilermakers in the last overtime period. Despite the defensive errors, Plummer still had a great game shooting the ball and continues to be key in Illinois’ success from behind the arc.

Jacob Grandison: D+

Another tough game for Grandison. Especially in the first half, it seemed like he couldn’t get anything to fall and continued to shoot the ball. He finished with eight points on 3-10 shooting, but one of the threes was late in the second overtime when Illinois had next to no hope of coming back.

Grandison was also just OK defensively, even while not being tasked with the toughest defensive assignments. He had just three rebounds in 29 minutes.

He’ll get back in the groove he was in earlier this season, but his play tonight was subpar, just like a lot of his teammates. These games happen.

Andre Curbelo: A

I’ve already talked about him enough, but to come back after almost two months off the court and perform the way he did in an intense a game as it was deserves credit.

20 points, no turnovers and clutch baskets all around had Illini fans cheering, which they’ll be doing more of now that Curbelo has returned.

Trent Frazier: B

This is a tough grade to figure out, because Trent didn’t shoot the ball well. He had 16 points, but it came on 7-16 shooting from the field and 2-9 from three.

But he was able to finish inside and score when his team was struggling, ultimately helping keep the Illini in the game. He also had six assists, five boards and played good defense for the most part. 

Trent performed late-game heroics in Illinois’ last two contests, so we won’t rip on him for a tough game shooting. If he shot better, would Illinois have won? Maybe. But those days happen, and the fifth-year senior still had a good game.

Da’Monte Williams: A-

This is coming mainly from the job he did on Jaden Ivey. The Purdue guard is a projected lottery pick, and Williams held him to 3-10 shooting from the field.

Da’Monte finished with three points, six rebounds and four assists, and his only points came on a big second-half triple. He also had two blocks, one of which was on a fast break and got the crowd roaring.

His defense was phenomenal, and despite the lack of points, Williams played his role very well. Locking up Ivey was a must, especially with Edey playing so well, and the fifth-year player did just that.

Final note

Kofi had a bad game, Trent didn’t shoot well, Grandison was off again and the defense could have been a lot better. And still, the game was sent to double overtime against a top-five team in the nation.

If there’s ever a bad loss, this was it. Underwood, his crew and the players should all learn a lot from this game and can use it as a chance to get better. These two teams will rematch on Feb. 10 in Mackey Arena, so we’ll know then how this game impacted the team.

Very glad Curbelo is back. 


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