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Illinois storms past Minnesota as winning streak lives on

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The Illini are rolling.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Trap game? What trap game? The No. 5 Illinois Fighting Illini (16-5; 12-3 Big Ten) extended their winning streak to seven with a decisive, drama-free 94-63 victory Saturday afternoon at The Barn in Minneapolis.

The Golden Gophers entered this contest without the services of co-captain Gabe Kalscheur, who suffered a fractured finger earlier in the week.

Neither side was able to get in rhythm early, with five lead changes in first 8+ minutes. The Illini grabbed a 23-19 lead midway through the half, thanks in large part to Jacob Grandison. The Holy Cross transfer notched seven early points — including four foul shots — two assists and a steal in the first 10 minutes.

Illinois gained a bit of breathing room, leading 30-23 at the under-8 media timeout, and extended the lead to 15 by halftime.

Minnesota center Liam Robbins was a force defensively, talling five blocked shots in the first half. However, the Drake transfer was held scoreless and limped off the court prior to halftime.

The Illini picked up where they left off, scoring eight points in 1:40 to start the second half and stretch the lead to 56-33. After a flurry of fast-break points and a barrage of dunks, Illinois led by as many as 36 before turning to non-rotational bench players like Jermaine Hamlin, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, and Connor Serven.

Ayo Dosunmu strengthened his case for Big Ten Player of the Year by registering his second triple-double this season (19 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds) — only the fourth such performance in school history.

“When Ayo rebounds like that, we’re electric offensively, because his defense turns into offense for us,” said head coach Brad Underwood postgame.

Underwood added: “Everybody saw what Kofi and Giorgi can do running the floor.”

Saturday also began a stretch of five road games in Illinois’ final six regular season contests, including roadies against ranked foes Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State.

“Who cares? Line ‘em up,” Underwood said. “I’m so tired of talking about scheduling; it doesn’t matter who we play, this league’s a monster. I don’t care. Let’s go.”

SOUND SMART

  • The Fighting Illini had 12 assists on 16 field goals in the first half, and finished the game with 27 helpers (37 FGs).
  • Illinois was a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line in the opening half.
  • Minnesota entered Saturday’s game 13-1 at Williams Arena, including a 25-point win versus Michigan State, an 18-point win against Michigan and a 17-point victory over Ohio State.
  • The Illini outscored the Gophers 31-8 on fastbreak points
  • In two games versus Minnesota, Kofi Cockburn averaged 27.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Illinois swept the season series by a combined 58 points.
  • Illinois’ 12-3 Big Ten start is its best since Bruce Weber’s Final Four squad in 2004-05.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

People are starting to pay attention...

A thing of beauty.

I’d have to say “11.”

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HE SAID IT

When asked about Ayo Dosunmu’s Player of the Year candidacy, Underwood put it bluntly: “The numbers don’t lie, and the productivity doesn’t lie, and the winning doesn’t lie. I have no idea who in the hell anybody thinks is any better than him right now.”

TWEET(S) OF THE GAME

UP NEXT

The Fighting Illini head to East Lansing for a tilt with the Michigan State Spartans (11-9; 5-9 Big Ten). The game will air Tuesday night on FS1.