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Illinois bounces back against Hawaii, 66-53

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The Illini face off against The Citadel on Wednesday.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois cuts it close again.

The Illini’s second game at home wasn’t very comfortable but a big run in the second half lifted them over the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, 66-53, at State Farm Center on Monday night.

“What’s the saying,” asked head coach Brad Underwood. “There’s no such thing as a bad win. Thought it was a gritty, tough, defensive-minded basketball game tonight.”

The Illini (3-1) offense started slow shooting 0-of-7 from the floor in the first five minutes with two turnovers, much of the struggles coming from inside. Illinois tried getting the ball to Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili early, but neither looked ready to go. Cockburn shot 1-of-7 from the floor to and committed three turnovers in the first half, with Bezhanishvili only pitching in five points.

“We didn’t help Kofi in the first half,” Underwood said. “Got him quick looks but didn’t make the defense move. He still rushes things now and then. Second half, we ran better offense, got him deeper in post, made some nice moves.”

Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier connected on back-to-back three-point attempts to spark as much offense as we were going to see in the first 20 minutes. Dosunmu finished the half with seven points to lead Illinois and Frazier with six.

Despite the rough start offensively, the first half was highlighted by strong defensive play. Illinois forced turnovers and bad shots resulting in Hawaii shooting 12-of-33 from the floor. Kofi Cockburn lead the way with two blocks and seven defensive rebounds, and the Illini kept the fouls to a minimum, committing just two violations. Still the Illini headed to the break tied with the Rainbow Warriors (3-2) at 26.

Cold shooting was just a thing of the past as Illinois jumped out early in the second half to the tune of a 16-4 run. Ball movement down low allowed Cockburn to start the half a couple easy buckets in the first few minutes. Feliz picked up his play in the second half, adding seven points in the ballgame. And Kipper Nichols had his best game of the year scoring nine points in a supporting role, including a beautiful spin move through the paint.

“We know Kipper can score the basketball, and he’s an excellent passer,” Underwood said. “His productivity tonight was vital. We need that consistently from him.”

Trent Frazier reestablished himself as one of the best shooters on the team, finding the bottom of the net on 2-of-3 long ball attempts and totaling 13 points in his best performance so far. The Rainbow Warriors couldn’t keep pace with Illinois as they fell, 66-53.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Kofi Cockburn — The freshman picked up his third double-double of the season on Monday night. He’d finish with 15 points and 14 boards after his slow start.
  • Giorgi Bezhanishvili — Cockburn’s frontcourt counterpart chipped in with 10 points and nine boards of his own — one shy of his career-high.
  • Andres Feliz — What’s this segment without Illinois’ glue guy himself. The senior poured in seven points, eight rebounds and five assists.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

  • Spare buckets, please? — After what felt like an eternity, Kofi Cockburn was the first Illini to cash in from the field almost six minutes into the start of the game.
  • Poor acting skills — With a one-point lead, Illinois was awarded a free throw and the ball after Hawaii’s Eddie Stansberry was assessed a technical for flopping. This is a new rule that went into effect this season. First violation is a warning, the second a tech. This would spark an 11-2 Illini run.

SOUND SMART

TWEET OF THE GAME

Still better than the Pac-12 Network.

WHO’S NEXT

The Illini are back at State Farm Center again on Wednesday night to take on winless The Citadel Bulldogs (0-3) at 8 p.m. CT in the second of five consecutive home games. You can catch Wednesday’s matchup on BTN.