CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — 262 days later, Illinois picked up right where it left off.
The No. 8 Illini opened their 2020 season and their Thanksgiving tournament with a dominant 122—60 win over North Carolina A&T in an empty State Farm Center — more than eight months after their last game, a 78-76 win over Iowa to prematurely end the 2019-20 regular season.
“Its unbelievable to be back playing,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “The players have persevered so much, some good books will come out about these past eight months.
Before the season started, head coach Brad Underwood said he was anxious to find out what his team’s weaknesses are — but they didn't show many on Wednesday.
“I was pleased with today,” Underwood said. “We’ll see what tomorrow brings with the execution piece.”
Ayo Dosunmu showed why he was named to numerous preseason watch lists by leading all scorers with a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, the Chicago native opening his junior season with his second career double-double.
“We still have that chip on our shoulder,” Dosunmu said. “We know our expectations. We know our ceiling. I think we’re nowhere near our ceiling and the whole team recognizes that.”
Speaking of double-doubles, Kofi Cockburn added one himself. The sophomore had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Defensively, the Illini suffocated the Aggies all game long. The Illinois defense held the Aggies to just 60 points (19 in the first half) and added five steals and four blocks as a team.
The newcomers paid dividends as well. Adam Miller set the Illini record for points from a freshman in their debut with 28. He was hot from three as well, sinking six threes in his first start.
“I’m real comfortable,” Miller said after his record-setting debut.
“I’m an efficient player,” he said. “I hunt great shots and that’s what came today.”
Last season, Illinois as a team shot just 30.9% from behind the arc and the Illini lost their best three-point shooter in Alan Grffin — who shot over 40% from three — to Syracuse. But the Illini shot 54.8% from three, setting a school record with 17 made three-pointers (previous school record was 16).
“We put a lot of work into our game,” Dosunmu said. “This was something that we definitely put a lot of work and grinding in to.”
After a long layoff, the Illini lived up to their No. 8 ranking with a 62-point victory.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
TWEET(S) OF THE GAME
The University of Illinois today:— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) November 25, 2020
- Winning a basketball game by a lot
- Finding out that chocolate is good for brain health https://t.co/YobuDskavK
HE SAID IT
“He’s a sniper,” — Ayo Dosunmu on Adam Miller
Illinois gets to do it all again tomorrow. They’ll tip off against Chicago State at 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network.