Kofi Cockburn dominates, Illinois men’s basketball secures 13-point home win over Wisconsin

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Junior center Kofi Cockburn dunks the basketball during the first half of No. 18 Illinois’ game against No. 11 Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Wednesday night. Cockburn finished with 37 points and 12 rebonds in the Illini’s 80-67 win over the Badgers.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

A 37-point, 12-rebound double-double from junior center Kofi Cockburn helped No. 18 Illinois pull away from No. 18 Wisconsin in the second half, taking sole possession of first place in the conference with an 80-67 win at State Farm Center on Wednesday.

Senior guard Da’Monte Williams opened the game strong after his big performance against Northwestern on Saturday, opening the scoring with a 3-pointer, his first triple in four games.

Cockburn also got going early. After missing a layup on Illinois’ opening possession, the Jamaica native knocked down his next two shots, but four points from Wisconsin junior forward Tyler Wahl saw the Illini ahead, 7-4.

A 9-3 Badger run gave the visitors a three-point advantage, though it did not last long. A layup from sophomore guard Andre Curbelo, who made his return from a two-game absence while in health and safety protocol, and a Cockburn jumper quickly put Illinois back ahead, 14-13, less than six minutes into the contest.

Wisconsin then took its biggest lead of the half, going on an 8-2 run to open up a five-point lead, but a Cockburn layup and a triple from graduate student guard/forward Jacob Grandison tied the score, 21-21, just over one minute later.

After a Wahl dunk and two free throws from Badger sophomore guard Johnny Davis opened another four-point Wisconsin lead, a junior center Omar Payne dunk and a Grandison layup evened the score.

Cockburn commanded the paint, a common theme throughout the night, and went on to score the Illini’s next eight points, though their lead never grew above two points.

That changed with four minutes to play, though, as a Cockburn dunk, Curbelo jumper and Williams layup fueled a 6-0 Illinois run, giving the hosts a six-point advantage, the largest lead by either team in the opening period of play.

Heading into halftime, Illinois held a narrow advantage, 42-38, though Cockburn was the star of the show, recording 20 first-half points on a 10-12 clip.

Despite the cold snow falling outside State Farm Center, the Illini came out of the break blazing hot, going on a 9-2 run via points from Cockburn, Grandison, senior guard Trent Frazier and graduate student guard Alfonso Plummer, his first of the night. The three-minute stretch helped Illinois take an 11-point lead, the largest by either squad thus far.

Wahl cut his team’s deficit to single digits, but three Plummer free throws put the hosts back up by double digits, a 12-point advantage with 15 minutes remaining.

With the two teams trading points over the next six minutes, the Badgers used a 4-0 run over just 30 seconds of play to cut their deficit to single digits, 63-57, with just over nine minutes to play. A 6-2 Illini run, with all six points coming from Cockburn, reopened a double-digit Illinois advantage with six minutes to play. The stretch also sent the Illini big man up to 30 points on the night, his second 30-point performance of the season.

Four straight points from Grandison, giving him 14 points, opened a 14-point Illinois advantage, 73-59, with five minutes to play. 

Seven more points from Cockburn, sending him up to 37, one shy of his career high, sealed the Illinois win, giving Illinois sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. 

Grandison recorded 14 points, while Frazier, Curbelo and Williams each finished with seven for Illinois, which shot 51.6% from the field.

Davis led the Badgers with 22 points and 15 rebounds, though their top two scorers, Davis and senior guard Brad Davison, were held to a combined 8-31 shooting from the field. Wisconsin also went just 3-24 from the 3-point line, its worst percentage of the season.

 

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