CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — These low-major, non-conference matchups serve one purpose: to get right, and Illinois did just that.
In their last tune-up game before they dive back into conference play, the Illini handled the North Carolina A&T Aggies at State Farm Center in Champaign on Sunday afternoon, 95-64.
“[North Carolina A&T] is a solid basketball team so I was pleased with the offensive side of things,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “One turnover in the first half. We lifted ourselves up by making the right plays.”
Still fresh off a Braggin’ Rights loss last weekend against Missouri, the Illini (9-4, 1-1) were in desperate need of a bounce-back win and got just that with the Aggies. Illinois entered the day as 25.5-point favorites in a game that shouldn’t have been close and took care of business. The Aggies (3-11) were without head coach Jay Joyner who was suspended indefinitely on Friday morning with associate head coach Will Jones serving as the interim against the Illini.
“We focus on ball movement and made shots,” said Illinois sophomore Ayo Dosunmu. “Against [Missouri] we didn’t make shots. I feel like we did that better, but we still have more improvement to make.”
Back-to-back threes from Ayo Dosunmu and Da’Monte Williams got Illinois started out of the gate. The Aggies found some success behind the arc (5-of-9) early and led the rebounding battle at the break 17-15, but they struggled to take care of the ball. Illinois forced nine North Carolina A&T turnovers while committing just one in the first period. The Illini moved the ball as well as they have all season, leading to 13 assists on 20 made baskets and 6-of-14 shooting from deep. Down low, the Aggies had no answer for Kofi Cockburn. He led all scorers with 14 points at the break as the Illini took a 50-34 lead after the first 20 minutes of play.
“When your guards have one assist at Missouri, that’s not very much fun to watch, no matter what you run,” Underwood said. “We’re not a selfish team. Most of the things we worked on and emphasized in practice, we put into fruition today.”
Good things happen to those who get in the paint, and Cockburn did just that to start the second half. Eight quick points for him pushed the Illinois lead over 20 for the first time in the game. It never dipped below that. Alan Griffin got hot midway through the second, notching a pair of triples and throwing down a mean putback dunk to put him at 18 points for the day.
Head coach Brad Underwood never took his foot off the gas, sticking with his eight-man rotation until there were less than three minutes on the clock as Illinois pulled away, 95-64.
“I feel like the sky is the limit with this team,” Dosunmu said. “We have to pay attention to little details... Big Ten is no joke. Every night from here on out is tough.”
- Ayo Dosunmu — 19 points, seven rebounds
- Kofi Cockburn — 26 points, 11-16 FG, nine rebounds
- Alan Griffin — 18 points, 7-8 FG, 4-5 3FG
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Talk about a nice sequence...
Season-high steals for the Illini— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) December 29, 2019
The Illini kick off the new year (and decade) on the road at No. 14 Michigan State (9-3) on Jan. 2. The last time Illinois squared off against Izzo, the Illini upset the then No. 9 Spartans at State Farm Center, 79-74. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT, and the game will be aired on FS1.