CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Anticipation has been building for a tournament bound basketball team in Champaign, and Illinois took its first step Friday night in its exhibition.
Win the games you’re supposed to win.
Despite a slow start in the first half, Illinois poured on the shooting in the second to trounce the Lewis Flyers, 83-50. Kofi Cockburn impressed in the Illini victory, he led Illinois in scoring (16 points) and earned his first career double-double (11 rebounds) with the team.
“That’s why we play these games,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “See an opponent that is extremely well coached, extremely disciplined.”
Illinois started the first half sloppy with eight turnovers in the first eight minutes. Two double-dribbles from Giorgi Bezhanishvili combined with poor shooting led to a 14-2 deficit early. Flyers guard Anthony D’Avanzo scored 15 points in the first half, including a near perfect percentage from beyond the arc.
Despite the deficit the Illini stayed cool.
“We were out of sorts and in a hurry,” Underwood said. “Even though they were 5-of-6 from the three-point line early, I felt really good about our defensive effort and execution.”
A late stretch of scoring from Andres Feliz allowed the Illinois to take the lead at halftime despite the poor shooting efforts. Former Big Ten All-Freshmen Ayo Dosunmu headlined a slow start when he went 0-of-4 in the first half scoring only one point on a free throw. Despite the offensive struggles, the defense created 12 turnovers and limited the Flyers to just 28 points in the first half.
“I was trying to bring our energy back, bring back our run,” said Feliz. “Our defense never went away, it was out there.”
Feliz continued his streak into the second half scoring on the first possession, kick starting the sluggish Illini offense. From there the Illini never looked back, outscoring the Flyers 51-22 in the second half.
“[Feliz] is so stable,” Underwood said. “I don’t like looking over and seeing him on the bench, and I know how hard that he works.’”
Moments That Mattered
Andres Feliz scoring spree:
Illinois avoided hitting the panic button at half thanks to some crucial scoring down the stretch from Andes Feliz. Feliz ignited Illinois’ offense with eight points in the last three minutes including a three-pointer to close out the first half. Underwood will look to Feliz to be consistent off the bench this season.
Free throw shooting:
Illinois was atrocious from the free throw line (15-27). The Illini can’t afford to shoot that poorly against Big Ten opponents when free throws decide games. What’s more concerning is Ayo Dosunmu 50 percent shooting from the charity stripe. As a leader of this team he is going to have to improve.
Freshman stepping up:
Kofi Cockburn lived up to his expectations by leading the team in scoring with 16 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double. Fellow freshman Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk scored 11 points including three shots from behind the arc. Underwood has now put together two talented classes that are ready to play on day one.
You Gotta See This
Welcome to the House of ‘Paign.
A nice look at the Giorgi jam. pic.twitter.com/tE5wofIfYm— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) November 2, 2019
Tweet of the Game
First of many double-doubles.
2➡️21— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) November 2, 2019
Freshman @kxng_alpha with a double-double (15 p, 10 r). #Illini pic.twitter.com/DMGsrApjmr
Illinois takes on Nicholls State at home on Tuesday to start regular season play. Tip-off for that game is at 7:00 p.m. CT.