Illinois manages to find offensive rhythm, balance without Dosunmu to bury Nebraska

Adam+Miller+shoots+a+3-pointer+during+Illinois%27+game+against+Nebraska+Feb.+25.+Miller+reportedly+entered+the+transfer+portal+Thursday+afternoon.

Cameron Krasucki

Adam Miller shoots a 3-pointer during Illinois’ game against Nebraska Feb. 25. Miller reportedly entered the transfer portal Thursday afternoon.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

All season, Illinois’ offense has centered around Ayo Dosunmu, and for good reason. The All-American candidate is averaging over 21 points per game and five assists.

But on Thursday night, the No. 5 Illini had to find production elsewhere as Dosunmu was inactive with a facial injury. And after a slow start, Adam Miller, Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo stepped up to help lead Illinois to an 86-70 win over Nebraska.

“My only disappointment in tonight is that there weren’t 15,000 fans here to celebrate,” Underwood said. “Knowing that those guys won’t be out here again is pretty emotional. They’re the foundation of everything we’ve built here.”

After senior night festivities for seniors Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Zach Griffith and junior Ayo Dosunmu, the teams collectively played some sloppy basketball. Each team started 5-14 from the field before a Williams midrange jumper gave Illinois a 14-11 lead.

The teams continued to trade buckets until Miller made his run. First, Miller came off a dribble handoff on the right side and contorted his body, finishing a nifty reverse on the left side. On the ensuing Illinois possession, Miller buried a three from the right-wing. Two possessions later, Miller caught the ball in the corner and drove baseline, finishing with a left-handed slam. Those were just seven of Miller’s 16 first-half points. Miller’s season-high in conference play was just 14 points prior to Thursday.

“I expect a lot from Adam every single day,” Curbelo said. “I expect Adam to play good every single day. He works hard. He had a great night today. He stepped up.”

A Kobe Webster three to end the first half gave the Cornhuskers some life, cutting the lead to single-digits. But the second-half was the Curbelo and Cockburn show. A flagrant foul against Cockburn ignited a spark in the Kingston, Jamaica native. He dominated in the paint, scoring 18 second half. A large part of that came at the free-throw line, where he went 8-10 after a 3-11 performance from the stripe against the Spartans.

“We did a better job of getting him the ball,” Underwood said. “That’s Kofi’s MO. there’s not a lot of finesse in Kofi. He’s aggressive…I was doing backflips to see him make his last eight free throws.”

Curbelo also got to show what he was capable of, playing a season-high 31 minutes. He neared a triple-double, finishing with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists. It’s no secret that Dosunmu will likely depart for the NBA next season, so Thursday provided a glimpse of what the future may hold. If Curbelo and Miller play as they did against Nebraska, the future of the program is in good hands.

@BrandonSimberg

[email protected]