Notes, player grades: Illinois men’s basketball struggles at Maryland, falls without Kofi Cockburn


Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk hits a layup during the second half of Illinois’ 81-65 loss to Maryland on Friday night. Bosmans-Verdonk made his first career start, while Alfonso Plummer scored 18 points in the loss.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

Illinois went into College Park, Maryland, on Friday without star big man and National Player of the Year candidate Kofi Cockburn and struggled because of it. The Terrapins took advantage and won the game, 81-65.

Donta Scott scored a career-high 25 points off the bench for Maryland, and the Illini just couldn’t find an answer. Alfonso Plummer led Illinois with 18 points.

The game was a lot closer than the score shows, as Illinois was leading for a portion of the second half and trailed by just five points with 2:50 left. Scott and guard Fatts Russell were too much for Illinois to handle, though, and Maryland cruised at the end to a victory.

No Kofi? No chance.

Illinois has now played two games against Power-Five competition without Kofi Cockburn and lost both, falling by one point at Marquette and now 16 at Maryland.

The big man is a National Player of the Year candidate for a reason, as his presence in the paint vastly improves Illinois’ success on both sides of the ball. When the Illini hosted Maryland on Jan. 6, it was night and day with Kofi on the bench versus on the floor. When he wasn’t in foul trouble, Illinois dominated.

Without the big man on the floor, Illinois is going to struggle. Unless all Illinois’ guards are having very good games, the Illini struggle a lot on offense without their big man, who opens things up like no one else in the country. 

Let’s get right into grades.

Da’Monte Williams: F

Sorry to start on such a sour note, but this whole game left a bad taste in my mouth. Williams struggled considerably on both sides of the ball.

Donta Scott came off the bench and did whatever he wanted to Williams, and on the offensive side of the ball, Da’Monte missed all of his five shots and committed a turnover.

He’s never given much on offense, but Brad Underwood has continued to start Da’Monte because of his defensive effort. Unfortunately, Scott is bigger than Williams and was too much for the 6-foot-3 guard to handle. Making a three would have been nice, too, but tonight was not Williams’ night.

Trent Frazier: B+

Trent played a better game in College Park. He scored 13 points on efficient shooting and was able to hold his own against Maryland’s guards and force tough shots.

He was able to hit shots from behind the arc at good times, helping keep Illinois in the game throughout the first 35 minutes. However, his three turnovers didn’t help his team’s low-scoring night.

Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk: B-

BBV started for the first time in his Illini career with Kofi out on Friday, earning the spot after his great defensive effort against Purdue. 

He scored five points and made some seemingly nice passes, but he only had one rebound and one assist. For the way he played on Monday, it was surprising to see BBV struggle to rebound against a smaller team.

His grade isn’t lower because he hasn’t been getting big minutes all year, but the defensive effort could have been a lot better and helped give Illinois a bigger lead earlier in the game.

Alfonso Plummer: A-

The highest grade of the night goes to Plummer, who had 14 of his 18 points in the first half and had a nice night shooting from behind the arc.

Plummer continues to be one of the best pieces on Illinois’ offense, collecting four boards and two assists as well. He missed one free throw Friday night, a rare scene from the 98% free-throw shooter, but he gets a pass for that one.

Plummer did struggle a bit on the defensive end, however, and wasn’t able to hit a big shot when Illinois needed one in the final four minutes. Still a good night from the Puerto Rico native.

Andre Curbelo: D

After an impressive 20-point, zero-turnover game against Purdue earlier in the week, Curbelo played Friday the way he had been before missing 11 games.

The guard had just four points in 14 minutes while only dishing out one assist and recording three turnovers. Almost the opposite of his play in the previous game. 

It was only his second game back, but I expected Curbelo to play better off the bench. Hopefully he got a bad game out of his system now, because the Illini have a tough task in Michigan State next week, especially if Cockburn remains sidelined with a concussion-related injury. 

Jacob Grandison: B+

Grandison played a lot better Friday night after having a few games in a row of poor shooting performances. He scored 14 points on 5-8 shooting.

He also grabbed three rebounds and played solid defense for most of the game, but he had a couple of slip-ups that led to Terrapin baskets. 

The Illini need Grandison to continue to shoot the ball well because they lack offense with Kofi off the floor, and anyone making shots consistently is a huge help.

Coleman Hawkins: C+

Coleman came off the bench and made an immediate impact. He made two foul shots, hit a three and slowed down Donta Scott for a few minutes. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives ended.

Hawkins then went 0-4 on shooting for the rest of the night and was only able to earn 11 minutes of floor time. I thought he would have been a better matchup for Scott, but Brad didn’t want him on the floor.

The Illini could benefit for a player of Hawkins’ size to play better minutes, so we’ll see if Coleman can improve on both sides of the ball to earn more minutes with a tough part of Illinois’ schedule coming up.

Final note

Not having Kofi really hurts. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana are all coming up in the near future, so one or two guys are really gonna have to step up if Cockburn is forced to miss a few more games.



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