No. 24 Illinois men’s basketball plays host to No. 10 Michigan State with statuses of Curbelo, Cockburn uncertain

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Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Center Kofi Cockburn attempts to shoot the ball during the Michigan game on Jan. 14. The Illini will be up against Michigan again this Tuesday with Cockburn’s return unknown.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Head coach Brad Underwood will be the first to tell you about the Illini’s poor performance against the Maryland Terrapins in College Park on Friday night.

After trailing by just three points with five minutes to play, Illinois went cold offensively, and Maryland closed the game on a 15-2 run and ended up winning by 16.

“We stunk, and that’s not taking anything away from them,” Underwood said. “We were just flat emotionally; we didn’t punch anybody. We thought we were gonna outscore ‘em.”

The No. 24 Illini do not have much time to rue their upset loss, and they will welcome the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans to State Farm Center on Tuesday night and look to snap their two-game losing skid.

In the last 365 days, Illinois has lost just one conference game at home, with that sole defeat coming last Monday in a double-overtime defeat to then-No. 4 Purdue, a game in which junior center Kofi Cockburn played limited minutes due to being in foul trouble and sophomore guard Andre Curbelo made his return from an 11-game absence.

Cockburn has been sidelined ever since fouling out during the first overtime period against the Boilermakers, and it was later revealed that he entered concussion protocol on Friday prior to the Illini’s game against the Terrapins.

“Kofi’s impactful on both ends, and there’s a reason we play the way we play,” Underwood said. “When you don’t have that, we’re not gonna reinvent the wheel in one game. We’re not gonna change what we do. That just doesn’t work. That’s not fair to everybody else that because one guy’s gone we’re gonna scrap what we do and change it.”

Prior to Illinois’ two-game skid, its last Big Ten loss came against Michigan State on Feb. 23 in East Lansing. Though the Spartans’ top three scorers – Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford and Rocket Watts – from that game have since left the program through either graduation or the transfer portal, Michigan State has had a hot start to the season.

Three of the Spartans’ top four scorers are forwards: senior Gabe Brown (13.6 points), junior Malik Hall (9.9 points) and senior Marcus Bingham Jr. (9.6 points). Freshman guard and Illinois native Max Christie ranks second in scoring with 10.5 points per game.

If Cockburn is unavailable for a second consecutive game, the Illini will need their backup big men, whether it be junior forward Omar Payne, redshirt sophomore forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk or sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins, to deal with the Spartans’ size: 7-foot Bingham, 6-foot-9-inch redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser, 6-foot-9-inch sophomore center Mady Sissoko and 6-foot-8-inch Hall.

With Curbelo’s status unknown after Underwood revealed the point guard had a fever and did not practice earlier in the week and Cockburn potentially still in concussion protocol, Illinois will need everyone to contribute to beat 15-3, first-place Michigan State.li

Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at State Farm Center in Champaign.

 

@JacksonJanes3

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