CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It was a blowout last year at the State Farm Center. Illinois’ final home game of the 2018-19 campaign was against Indiana — a 95-74 loss — and summed up one of the worst Illini basketball seasons ever.
This year a whole new Illini team sold out the building and avenged its blowout loss with a 67-66 win, sending Illinois back into a tie for second place in the Big Ten — and just one game behind first-place Maryland.
Illinois exploded out of the gate diving for balls and forcing turnovers. Unfortunately, the high intensity forced some turnovers of their own as both Kofi Cockburn and Andres Feliz turned the ball over in the game’s first two minutes. Cockburn struggled to pounds the glass, only scoring three points and getting two rebounds, while Dosunmu led the way for the Illini, scoring nine points in a back-and-forth first half.
“I’m going to start this off with Ayo Dosunmu setting the tone in the first half by diving on the floor for a loose ball three times,” said Head Coach Brad Underwood. “That’s Illinois basketball.”
Indiana found some momentum at the 10-minute mark of the first half. Davonte Green hit two three-pointers to give Indiana their first lead of the game. Trace Jackson-Davis dominated the boards with four offensive rebounds and 10 points. A 12-3 Indiana run gave the Hoosiers their biggest lead of the day, but a Dosunmu bucket-and-one cut the Hoosier lead to two.
Dosunmu took control of the game in the second half. A transition bucket and a free throw gave Illinois a measly three-point lead. Despite a the small lead, a loud State Farm center forced Indiana head coach Archie Miller to call a timeout.
Jerome hunter hit a pair of threes to give Indiana their first lead of the second half after the timeout. Illinois and Indiana traded baskets, but some Cockburn free throws returned the lead back to the Illini 55-53 with seven minutes left.
“I’m really proud of Kofi cause he wasn’t really good in the first half,” Underwood said. “We really challenged him in the second half.”
Kofi Cockburn gave every thing he had in the final seven minutes. Six points and a block secured a five-point lead going into the final two minutes. A Dosunmu three made it comfortable for a split second but a Rob Phinisee three pulled the Hoosier within two. A couple of Dosunmu free throws sealed Illinois’ 67-66 victory.
“It is March,” Underwood said. “A lot of times in March you get beat and go home. This is why you lift and run. You push through the dog days.”
Moments that Mattered
Free Throws: The Illini started the game with three missed free throws that kept them from breaking out a big lead in the first five minutes. The misses cut Illinois’ momentum and kept the game close.
Timeouts: Archie Miller always seemed to know the right times to call a timeout. When ever the State Farm center seemed to be getting a little rowdy, Miller would call a timeout and suck the air out of the room.
Tweet of the Game
You Gotta See This
The Illini will look to get their fourth ranked win of the season against No. 23 Ohio State at Value City Arena in Columbus on Thursday night. That’s assuming OSU stays ranked.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 6 p.m. CT.