The Illini finally belong in the national spotlight again.
No. 6 Illinois had lost four straight to Duke dating back to 1995. That streak was snapped on Tuesday night. The Illini walked out of Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, with a 83-68 Big Ten/ACC Challenge victory over the No. 10 Duke Blue Devils.
It was the second primetime matchup on ESPN for Illinois in seven days after falling to No. 2 Baylor last Wednesday in Indianapolis. But this time around, the Illini proved they deserved to be considered among the top teams in the country with a signature nonconference win that could really carry some weight come Selection Sunday.
The Illini got about as good a start as head coach Brad Underwood could’ve asked for. Illinois took advantage of some early Duke turnovers and raced out to a 12-2 lead. Freshman Adam Miller — who drew the matchup against fellow top-30 freshman and Chicago native DJ Steward — connected from deep on each of his first three attempts.
The offense stalled for almost eight minutes midway through the first half as the Illini searched for a bucket, and the Blue Devils trimmed the lead to eight. Credit the Illini defense for doing a great job of forcing the Blue Devils into a lot of contested midrange jumpers and keeping a young team from finding any rhythm on offense.
The only two first half three-point attempts the Illini missed came from Ayo Dosunmu; Trent Frazier converted on both of his tries behind the arc and Da’Monte Williams added one in addition to Miller’s 3-for-3 start with the Illini taking a 43-29 edge into the half.
They stumbled out of the second half gates, putting the Blue Devils in the bonus in the opening four minutes. Despite foul trouble to Dosunmu, Williams and Kofi Cockburn and way too many turnovers (18), the Illini used a well-balanced attack to keep Duke at bay. Of the seven Illini that scored, all finished with between 9 and 18 points. The Blue Devils shot better from the perimeter (5-of-15) than they did in the first half (0-of-7), but it was never enough to close the gap and threaten the outcome of this one. Illinois would pull away, 83-68.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Unicorn?— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) December 9, 2020
Duke went 0 for its first 12 three-point attempts over the span of the first 27 minutes of the game.
Also, Coach K is now 300-11 all-time in non-conference games at Cameron Indoor. Two of those 11 losses have come in the past week (Michigan State, Illinois), and the Illini are the only non-ACC team with multiple wins (1995, 2020).
- Ayo Dosunmu: A regular in the Stat Stuffer section, Dosunmu notched a near double-double in the first half with 8 points and 8 rebounds (oh, and 4 assists). The preseason All-American would finish with 18 points, 12 boards and 5 assists.
- Kofi Cockburn: 13 points, 8 rebounds
- Matthew Hurt: 19 points, 7 rebounds
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
This is textbook fastbreak offense.
Andre Curbelo➡️Giorgi Bezhanishvili pic.twitter.com/orL4KbRvq8— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) December 9, 2020
The Illini get another tough nonconference clash before Big Ten play kicks off. They travel to Columbia, Missouri this year for the annual Braggin’ Rights matchup against Mizzou (3-0). The Tigers have played well to start the year, topping a top-25 Oregon squad last week and receiving some votes in this week’s AP poll.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on Saturday.