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Cockburn, Plummer’s hot hand lead No. 14 Illinois past Kansas State

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Still room for improvement, but a much better showing against the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Kansas State Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kofi Cockburn is looking like himself, Alfonso Plummer found himself, and Illinois finally captured a high-major victory.

Following up a solid opening performance in a loss to Cincinnati last night, Illinois’ big man was once again unstoppable, accounting for almost half the Illini points in the first half on a perfect 5-5 from the field. His teammates, once again, struggled to support the All-American; Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Andre Curbelo and Jacob Grandison combined for just 5 points in the first half. Without Alfonso Plummer’s first burner of the year (3-4 from 3 in the first half) Illinois would have found themselves trailing to an inferior opponent for the third consecutive game.

Illinois quickly found themselves in exactly that situation early into the 2nd half, as the Wildcats clawed out a 9-0 run to take the lead before Cockburn resumed his dominance with an emphatic dunk and and-one layup on back-to-back possessions. Quite simply, Cockburn’s importance to Illinois cannot be overstated. So far, he is the only consistent, reliable scorer and is often the only Illini with the ability to create their own shot.

Two consecutive threes seemed to spark the Illini midway into the 2nd half. Frazier found Alfonso Plummer for his 4th three of the game and Grandison followed suit with a three of his own a possession later. “If Illinois wins this game, it’s because Alfonso Plummer is making shots” said ESPN’s crew. They weren’t wrong. For as dominant as Kofi was inside, Plummer was just as mighty from beyond the arc. Illini nation, meet the Alfonso Plummer we were hearing about all offseason.

Cockburn showed off improved passing chops, dishing out of the post to Plummer for his 5th three of the night. For his stupendous talent, Cockburn too often could not find, much less hit, open shooters while deep in the paint. It was just one pass, one play. But Kofi wasn’t making that play at all last year.

Illinois’ barrage of 3’s in the second half — really the Alfonso Plummer show — showed just how effective surrounding the most dominant big man in college basketball with a legion of snipers can be. The Illini opened a double-digit lead against Bruce Weber’s crew with Cockburn and Plummer forming an inside-out dynamic duo. Illinois was able to hold off a late Kansas St surge to end an embarrassing three-game losing streak.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Kofi Cockburn: 22 PTS, 8-10 FG, 11 REB, 2 AST
  • Alfonso Plummer: 21 PTS, 7-9 3FG, 19 MIN
  • Andre Curbelo: 6 PTS, 7 AST, 3 REB

SOUND SMART

  • Kofi tied a career high with 2 assists!

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Illinois returns home to shake off the turkey and stuffing against UT Rio Grande Valley Friday night at 7 PM.