Cockburn enters concussion protocol, Illinois men’s basketball travels to Maryland

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Photo Courtesy of David Craan / Illinois Athletics

Omar Payne dunks the basketball during Illinois’ game against Maryland at State Farm Center on Jan. 6. Payne will likely play more minutes for the Illini on Friday after Kofi Cockburn was ruled out after entering concussion protocol.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Just as Andre Curbelo returned from concussion protocol, Kofi Cockburn entered it. The Illinois men’s basketball team announced that Cockburn will not play against Maryland on Friday, and his status for future games is unknown. 

The No. 17 Illini (13-4, 6-1) will meet a Maryland (9-9, 1-6) team that has lost five of its last six games, including a loss to Illinois in Champaign earlier this month.

Senior guard Eric Ayala leads the Terrapins in scoring at 16.3 points per game. Ayala also leads the team in 3-pointers attempted per game (7.1) and 3-point percentage (36%).

Their previous meeting this season was a 76-64 victory for the Illini, a game in which Cockburn led Illinois with 23 points and 18 rebounds. Adjustments will have to be made, but we’ve seen the Illini make them before.

Cockburn missed the first three games of the season after he was suspended for violation of NCAA NIL rules prior to the recent rule changes. The Illini went 2-1 in those games, and they won five of their next six games when he returned.

The Illini will have to rely on Omar Payne and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk to make up for Cockburn’s absence. Bosmans-Verdonk is coming off his best performance of the season in Illinois’ double-overtime loss against Purdue on Monday.

Bosmans-Verdonk scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes, which aren’t jaw-dropping numbers, but his impact was felt. He defended Purdue’s best player, 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, on several late-game possessions and forced two clutch steals. His defense and rebounding late was crucial to the Illini forcing two overtimes.

“I’m proud of our guys even though we lost, and you guys don’t hear me say that often,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “We played 30 minutes against a top-4 team without Kofi on the court. I couldn’t be prouder of Ben and Luke Goode.”

Omar Payne played very little against Purdue. When Cockburn was out earlier in the season, Payne started in his place, so we may see his minutes go up substantially until Cockburn returns.

Lucky for the Illini, Maryland gets the majority of its scoring from perimeter players. Transfer guard Fatts Russell is second on the team in scoring behind Ayala at 12.4 points per game. Illinois’ biggest challenge will be junior forward Donta Scott. 

Scott averages just 12.3 points per game, but he scored a season-high 19 points in Maryland’s 83-64 loss at Michigan on Tuesday. Scott also led Maryland with 17 points in its loss to Illinois earlier this month.

 

@JonesChristianT

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