Illinois, Northwestern head coaches express difficulties with officiating Kofi Cockburn


Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Center Kofi Cockburn shoots the ball into the hoop during the game against Northwestern on Sunday. Cockburn gained 19 points and 15 rebounds during the game.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Junior center Kofi Cockburn missed just three shots on Sunday when No. 13 Illinois beat Northwestern at home, but he wasn’t ecstatic about his performance.

Cockburn scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, both game highs, giving him his 41st career triple double. He’s now tied for the most in Illinois basketball history.

Along with Cockburn’s double-double came six turnovers, an “uncanny” amount for the big man, according to head coach Brad Underwood.

“Tonight was as bad as I’ve seen Kofi and as flustered,” Underwood said. “They sent the farm to him, and he just had some uncanny turnovers that he usually doesn’t have no matter if they’re two or three guys but he was flustered today.”

The Wildcats doubled Cockburn constantly, as teams have all season, but they were more physical than other teams. Northwestern committed 22 fouls on Sunday, eight more than the Illini. That’s not counting the ones the refs ignored.

“Kofi never shows emotion, and we all know he’s the most fouled player in America,” Underwood said. “One of the officials told me tonight he could call a foul every trip down. How do you respond to that? I mean, so you got to pick and choose?”

After the game, Underwood said Kofi complained at halftime about scratches on his arm and constant tugging of his jersey.

In late January, controversy arose after clips were posted online showing Cockburn receiving hard hits from Purdue center Zach Edey before the Illini were defeated in double overtime. The clips included an elbow to Cockburn’s head, and no foul was called. He was diagnosed with a concussion after the game.

“I usually handle it by staying focused and just thinking about the bigger picture, not dwelling on it so I’m able to help my teammates whenever I can,“ Cockburn said. “Today, obviously it didn’t turn out that way. I got a little frustrated. It’s about thinking about the guys beside me, the coaches that trust me, forward thinking, win, win, win.”

Cockburn shot 50% from the free-throw line and recorded just one assist all night. His lack of assists production has been a big reason why teams are quick to double-team him. When he’s not making free throws or hitting the open man, he’s a bit easier to guard.

“He’s a hard guy to officiate; he’s a little bit Shaq-like,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins. “He’s so big; he’s so strong.  It’s hard to determine whether it’s contact, whether it’s dislodging. He’s such a great player. I’m just fighting for my guys out there. Obviously, at the end of the day, I thought probably some went their way, some went our way, pretty much evened it out.”



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