The Illini bounced back Tuesday night at home, picking up another Big Ten victory after dropping two in a row. For a lot of different reasons, it felt like this was a must-win for the Illini, and really, they controlled the game from the tip.
This season, Underwood’s team has been plagued by slow starts, but that didn't seem to be a problem for the Illini after jumping out to an early lead in the first half. The Illini needed no extra motivation for this matchup either, some bad blood from the teams’ first clash carried over this time against Penn State. Multiple players from both squads received technicals throughout the game, including Da’Monte Williams and Coleman Hawkins for the Illini.
The Illini held the Nittany Lions to 33.9% shooting and had multiple stretches not allowing a basket for several minutes. Another big story for the Illini on the defensive end was a total of 8 blocks along with forcing 16 turnovers. Despite this, the Illini were outrebounded by Penn State, 40 to 35. The Illini will want to clean that stat up down the stretch in order to have Big Ten title hopes.
On the offensive side of the ball, Penn State played a lot of the game in a zone, which the Illini have struggled with this season. On some possessions, the zone seemed to make the Illini’s offense stagnant and provided Penn State with opportunities back in the game. The zone forced the Illini to attempt 23 threes in which they made 7 shooting 30% from behind the arc. Aside from that, Illinois had 18 assists (5 from Ayo Dosunmu) and shot 26-of-57 (45.6%).
Star of the Game: Kofi Cockburn
It was no secret that Kofi Cockburn dominated Tuesday night.
The sophomore got his nation-leading 11th double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Penn State had no answer for the big man in his 26 minutes drawing 10 fouls. Kofi had struggled from the line this season shooting just 54%, but he sunk 9 of 13 against the Nittany Lions.
Kofi’s touch and strength inside shined throughout the first and second half. If Cockburn can continue to punish opposing big men on the offensive end, the Illini will be very tough to beat come February and March.
Ayo had a quiet 13-point performance, but because of Kofi, the Illini were still able to win comfortably.
New Starting Lineup
Illinois’ starting five had a different look Tuesday night, with Da’Monte Williams coming off the bench and Jacob Grandison getting the start. With Penn State playing a zone, Grandison’s IQ and size made sense to plug into the starting lineup to play in between. The junior transfer overall had a really solid performance finishing with 3 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Underwood added that the change also allowed Da’Monte Williams to play around the perimeter more.
This is also because Coleman Hawkins saw an uptick in minutes against Penn State with 14 total minutes. The young, lengthy freshman showed a lot of really promising flashes including 3 blocks.
With Grandison and Hawkins on the court, the Illini were allowed to play with a lot more length.