Top-seeded Illinois men’s basketball crashes out of Big Ten tournament, falls to No. 9 Indiana


Cameron Krasucki

Junior center Kofi Cockburn goes up for a defensive rebound during the game between Illinois and Indiana at Gamebridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The No. 1 Illini fell to the No. 9 Hoosiers, 65-63, and was eliminated from the Big Ten tournament.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

In the quarterfinal round of the 2022 Big Ten Basketball Tournament, Illinois drew Indiana. Despite entering the contest with the top seed in the competition, the Illini were unable to defend their tournament title and fell to the Hoosiers, 65-63.

“Hats off to Indiana, they were really good,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “It’s hard sometimes when you play a team that’s already played, to just get a feel for the gym.”

Junior center Kofi Cockburn won the tip, and graduate student guard Alfonso Plummer put three points on the board for the Illini on their first possession. After Indiana junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis scored in the post, fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier hit a three from the exact same spot as Plummer, giving Illinois an early 6-2 lead.

Indiana then went on a 11-4 run, and the only Illinois points came on Cockburn free throws. During that time, the Hoosiers spread the ball around, with each member of the starting five scoring a basket.

With 13 minutes on the clock, Indiana led, 13-9. The Illini found a way to stop the Hoosiers’ offense on four straight possessions, but they wasted the opportunities, scoring just one point during that stretch.

On one fast-break, Frazier threw a perfect alley-oop pass to junior center Omar Payne, who cleanly caught it but missed the dunk. The following possession, freshman guard RJ Melendez just missed a contested floater, and on the next one, sophomore guard Andre Curbelo was fouled but made one of two freebies.

When Indiana head coach Mike Woodson put his starters on the bench, the Hoosier offense began to sputter. Cockburn scored his first two field goals of the day around the nine-minute mark, but two quick buckets from Indiana’s Trent Galloway gave them a 19-18 lead.

Not satisfied with a one-point lead, Indiana attacked the paint on offense. Sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo attempted to posterize the six-inches-taller Cockburn, almost putting it in and drawing a foul in the process. He made both free throws, and Indiana led, 21-18.

The Illini would control the next eight minutes of play. Sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins drained a three from dead center, tying the game, and after two full minutes of empty possessions for both teams, Hawkins broke the tie with a put-back layup. 

With his second three of the night, Plummer extended Illinois’ lead to five. The duo of Jackson-Davis and senior guard Rob Phinisee carried the Hoosiers, as they found ways to keep the score close.

The Illini led, 30-27, when senior guard Xavier Johnson intercepted a pass from Frazier, which led to another basket for Phinisee. 

Holding a one-point lead with 55 seconds left in the half, Illinois slowed the pace, allowing Frazier to find Hawkins in the corner for another triple, his third of the half.

The Hoosiers followed Illinois’ lead and used all 30 seconds of the shot clock before Phinisee hit a floater in the paint.

On the final play of the half, Hawkins found himself open for another three but missed. After 20 minutes Illinois led, 33-31, despite going without a field for over nine minutes in the opening 10 minutes of play.

Johnson opened the scoring for the Hoosiers in the second half for Indiana. On the other end, the Hoosiers fronted Cockburn, who caught an entry pass but lost the ball with an open lane to the hoop. 

Darting to the hoop from the right-wing and finishing with his left hand, Frazier regained the lead for Illinois. 

With 17 minutes remaining and the score at 35-34, both teams went to their post stars. Cockburn and Jackson-Davis traded baskets on four straight possessions, all in the post, all guarding each other and neither missed. Illinois led, 39-38.

With his team up one, fifth-year senior guard Da’Monte Williams found Frazier, who knocked down his second three of the day, but 20 seconds later, Indiana sharpshooter Race Thompson matched Frazier with a three of his own.

As Johnson drove to the paint looking to take the lead for Indiana, Payne rotated over and blocked his shot, but Thompson would grab the rebound and get fouled while shooting. His free throws gave Indiana its first lead of the second half with 13:27 on the clock.

Johnson scored a basket extending the lead to three. Jackson-Davis then spun around Cockburn and laid in a reverse layup to give Indiana a 47-42 lead.

After a media timeout, the Illini fed Cockburn on back-to-back possessions. He scored both times, but in between those baskets Thompson hit another three and afterwards Johnson hit two free throws. With nine minutes remaining, Indiana led by six.

Illinois cut the lead to three when Hawkins hit his third triple of the night followed by a defensive possession where Cockburn swatted Thompson’s floater like a fly. Cockburn then scored his 19th point of the day with three Hoosiers guarding him. 

Johnson scored again, but Curbelo cut the lead to one again, slicing to the hoop with a lefty scoop. Curbelo then ignited both sides of the crowd with a two-handed spin pass that traveled more than half the length of the court, below knee level, before reaching Hawkins, who was fouled on the break.

Hawkins made one freebie and missed one, but after Plummer stole the ball from Johnson, Hawkins hit his career-high fourth 3-pointer of the night, a career-high, giving Illinois a 57-54 lead over Indiana.

“I felt extremely confident. I’ve been in the gym shooting shots,” Hawkins said. “I just went with the flow of the game, took the open shots that came to me and I had a pretty decent shooting night.”

As the clock ticked below five minutes, Jackson-Davis went to work. He went on a solo 4-0 run to give Indiana a one-point lead. After Hawkins connected on two bonus free throws, Jackson-Davis scored again.

The Hoosiers continued to play physical, this time fouling Curbelo, who missed the first bonus free throw. Indiana took advantage, scoring on its next possession when Galloway blew by his defender for a layup.

Down one with 1:45 on the clock, Curbelo turned the ball over to Galloway’s who, with as clear a lane to the basket as anyone has ever seen, lost the ball off his foot, possibly saving Illinois’ season.

With 41 seconds remaining, Illinois went to a Curbelo-Cockburn pick-n-roll, and Curbelo found his running mate in the paint before he was fouled. Cockburn made both free throws, giving Illinois a one-point lead.

But on the other end, Cockburn fouled Jackson-Davis as soon as he touched the ball in the post. Because of the bonus, he got two shots, he made both and Indiana led, 64-63. 

With 26 seconds left, Curbelo brought the ball up the court for Illinois, and after facing stiff pressure from Johnson, he almost lost the ball. Illinois head coach Brad Underwood signaled for a timeout with 15 seconds to go. 


Frazier brought the ball up the court and attempted to pass to Hawkins on the right wing, but Hawkins was not ready and the ball sailed out of bounds.

“I’m very disappointed in myself for turning the ball over down the stretch,” Frazier said after the game. “That’s unacceptable, especially being a fifth-year starting guard.”

As Indiana inbounded the ball, Plummer fouled Kopp, though he missed the first free throw, giving Illinois an opportunity. After slicing through the defense and reaching the hoop, Curbelo missed the left-handed layup with four second remaining.

Jackson-Davis would make his next three free throws as Illinois tried to stay alive, but not enough time remained. Indiana won, 65-63.

Cockburn led Illinois with 23 points and 10 rebounds on an efficient 8-13 shooting performance. He also made seven of his eight free throws. Hawkins scored 18 points, and Frazier scored 11 with six assists.

Curbelo scored just five points, but he had 10 rebounds, a career-high.

Jackson-Davis was the high scorer for Indiana with 21 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists. Johnson scored 13, and Thompson had 10 points.



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