Second-half offensive, defensive improvements propel Illini to victory over Hoosiers

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Junior center Kofi Cockburn celebrates during Illinois men’s basketball’s game against Indiana at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington on Saturday Cockburn’s defense was crucial in the Illini’s second-half improvements.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Something needed to change at halftime. After shooting 40.9% from the field, recording five turnovers, committing 10 fouls and getting outrebounded on both ends of the floor, the Illini went into halftime with just a two-point deficit, but it easily could have been so much worse.

Allowing 36 first-half points, Illinois locked down Indiana in the second half in front of its own fans. What was once a rowdy crowd turned silent as the Illini used several big runs throughout the final 13 minutes of action en route to a 74-57 win in Bloomington.

Despite leading for just over 14 minutes and trailing for nearly 21, Illinois notched a 17-point road win, its largest ever at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

“We knew we were gonna be in for a fight,” head coach Brad Underwood said. “We knew we were gonna have some punches thrown at us. We knew it was gonna be a sell-out crowd.”

The Hoosiers shot 41.4% from the field in the opening 20 minutes of action while attempting 14 free throws. They also recorded just two turnovers and outrebounded the Illini by a significant margin.

The second half was a different story, with the Hoosiers shooting 29.6% from the field, hitting only one 3-pointer, attempting only four free throws and registering eight turnovers.

Despite holding the Hoosiers to a substantially worse shooting performance in the second half, fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier says the team did not make any changes at the break.

“I didn’t think we made any adjustments at all,” Frazier said. “I think it’s just better execution on the offensive end. I did think we did a good job limiting our turnovers – we had a few silly ones – but just getting back and just building our wall second half is what gave us a gap.”

The Illini offense was a big factor behind the second-half improvement. Illinois shot 53.8% from the field while going 6-13 from behind the arc. Frazier was held to nine points in the first half, though he exploded in the second with 14 points, including two clutch 3-pointers that essentially put the game away, on 5-6 shooting.

Junior center Kofi Cockburn’s effort on both offense and defense also proved pivotal, as he scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. He also held Indiana junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis to six points, his second-lowest total on the season.

“A lot of teams focus on offense; our main focus is defense,” Cockburn said. “We take such pride in that. Whenever we have a good defensive game, we celebrate those. We pat each other on the backs.

“We take great pride in defense, and to hold a team like that to 21 points, a really good offensive team like that, it’s tremendous and it goes to show you our hard work.”

Cockburn remains an essential part of the Illini offense, though Underwood acknowledged his star big man’s efforts on the other end of the court, calling him “an elite defender.”

With the Hoosiers playing in front of a sell-out home crowd, the Jamaica native praises his team’s defensive effort ahead of a rematch against Purdue in West Lafayette on Tuesday.

“We feed off our defense,” Cockburn said. “Once our defense is going, that starts our offense. We get fast-break points; we get that juice.”

@JacksonJanes3

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