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Off the bench, Curbelo leads No. 15 Illinois past Purdue

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Make that three in a row for Illinois.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

When Andre Curbelo hits the floor, good things happen for Illinois.

In a game that featured four runs of double digits, the Illini used a 20-5 run — sparked by Curbelo’s fifth straight game with five or more assists — in the second half to hold off the pesky Boilermakers, beating Purdue, 66-58.

Despite Twitter head coaches begging for the freshman to be featured in the starting lineup, the playmaker was quick to show his appreciation for his current role.

“I actually like coming off the bench,” Curbelo said.

For the third straight contest, Illinois (8-3, 4-1 Big Ten) was off to a rough start. But once again, Curbelo hit the floor and the Illini got back into it with the first of their two 10-0 first-half runs. The freshman finished the first half with a game-high +15 +/-, helping Illinois recover from the poor start.

“He’s a savant,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “He changes the game.”

Both teams were slow to get going, but it quickly became a game of runs between the Illini and the Boilermakers (7-5, 2-3 Big Ten). Da’Monte Williams’ two first half three-pointers helped push the Illini to a 10-point lead into the break.

A 19-0 answer from the Boilermakers to open the second half erased the Illini lead and gave Purdue a six-point advantage — the Illini turning once again to Curbelo to spark the offense.

The Illini responded with a 20-5 run of their own to take a nine-point lead with half a period to go. Curbelo contributed four points (including a dunk) and a trio of assists to put Illinois in front once again.

“[Curbelo’s] got eyes everywhere,” Williams said. “There’s eyes in his kneecaps, elbows. He sees stuff that nobody sees.”

This time, the lead was for good — as the freshmen were able to close out Purdue.

Curbelo finished the contest with eight points and a game-high six assists.

But he wasn't the only rookie who got the job done on Saturday. Adam Miller made some late free throws, and found his shooting stroke again. He finished with double-digits for the first time in four games.

Brad Underwood said pregame that Coleman Hawkins had his best practice before the Purdue game— and he followed that up arguably with his best game. The freshman picked up two points, two boards and a block early on and added a huge three pointer in the second half, matching his career-high with five points.

“I love [the freshmen],” Williams said. “That group is going to be something special.”

“I’m slowly learning to trust them,” Underwood said.

DA’MONTE KEEPS SHOOTING

Da’Monte Williams finished Saturday’s game making three of his five attempts from behind the arc. The senior leads the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 70%, while also picking up his second double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) of the year.

“Those are shots that I come in each and every day and take before practice and during practice,” Williams said. “Just really getting in a routine, stepping up and knocking it down.”

AYO GOES COLD

Ayo Dosunmu continued to pad his National Player of the Year campaign with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists.

After being relied on heavily in the last two games to close out games in the second half, Dosunmu did not register a single point in the second period of play. The junior guard instead was content distributing, picking up his three assists in the second half.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Kofi Cockburn: 14 points, 10 rebounds (7th double-double of the season)
  • Trevion Williams (Purdue): 14 points, 8 rebounds
  • Brandon Newman (Purdue): 14 points

SOUND SMART

  • Despite going 9-of-22 from the free throw line and turning it over 12 times, the Illini grabbed their fourth conference win — the second-most in the Big Ten.
  • Illinois is off to its best conference start in nearly a decade.
  • Illinois has not lost a game at home this season, while Purdue has not won a game away from Mackey Arena.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Guess what? He can dunk too:

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Check out this Curbelo dish -> Cockburn slam

TWEET OF THE GAME

UP NEXT

The Illini continue their conference slate Thursday in Evanston against No. 19 Northwestern at 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network.