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Illinois blows by Drexel in Round of 64

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Now it gets tough.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Drexel at Illinois Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that was 2,917 days in the making, the Illini’s return to the Big Dance wasn't much of a game — in a good way.

The No. 1 seeded Illini cruised past the Colonial Athletic Association champion Drexel Dragons, 78-49, on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis. Illinois advances to the Round of 32 for the first time since 2013.

The Illini were flat from the tip, trailing Drexel early on. But when freshman Andre Curbelo made a layup for the Illini to take a 9-8 lead with just over 13 minutes left in the first half, they never looked back. They closed the half on a dominant run (6-of-8 FGs) and took an 18-point lead into the break.

“I don't think we were nervous,” said Illini center Kofi Cockburn. “We just had to adjust and make sure we ran our offense effectively and thoroughly.”

The key for Illinois, that many expect to be the key for the entire tournament for the Illini, was getting Cockburn involved. The sophomore had two inches and 42 pounds on the tallest or heaviest players that Drexel has to offer, so matching up with the Kingston, Jamaica, native, was a problem for the Dragons.

The sophomore scored eight points in the first half and finished with a game-high 18 points.

In his first NCAA Tournament game, Trent Frazier brought a nice spark for Illinois, too. The senior guard scored seven of the Illini’s first 11 points, and finished with 11. Frazier also did an excellent job defending Drexel’s leading scorer Camren Wynter, who averages over 16 points per game.

Frazier held the junior to just two first-half points on 1-for-11 shooting for most of the game. Wynter ended with 6 points thanks to some garbage-time buckets.

“I thought we did a good job of taking Wynter out of his comfort zone,” Underwood said. “Trent has a tendency to do that to people.”

Ayo Dosunmu also poured in a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) and added a team-high six assists, as the Illini hung a 29-point victory on the No. 16 seeded Drexel Dragons.

“You’ve got to pick your poison with us,” Underwood said.

MORE HISTORY FOR DOSUNMU

This morning, Ayo Dosunmu was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy. He etched his name further in Illinois’ history books during the game, as his 17 points moved him into 12th place all-time in points for Illinois. The junior is also the program’s all-time leading scorer for a three-year player.

“I had goosebumps going out there because I know all the work we put into this game,” Dosunmu said postgame on the TBS broadcast.

SOUND SMART

  • Dosunmu’s double-double is the Illini’s first in a NCAA Tournament game since Nnanna Egwu in 2013.
  • Da’Monte Williams leads the NCAA in three-point FG percentage at 56.5%.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Cockburn is a player known for his scoring and rebounding — in fact, he was the fourth-highest scorer and the leading rebounder in the Big Ten. He entered the NCAA Tournament with just four assists all season. Fittingly, he had an assist in the first half of his first March Madness game.
  • When you think of double-doubles, Cockburn — who ranks second in the nation in the statistic — comes to mind. But it was the All-American Dosunmu who notched a double-double in his first ever game in the Big Dance. This is Dosunmu’s sixth double-double of the season (two Triple-Doubles) and his 42nd straight game in double-figures.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Ayo gave Drexel a nice intro to Kofi Cockburn.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the Masked Mamba.

TWEET OF THE GAME

It ended up being fun, but still.

HE SAID IT

“You can’t just load up on Ayo or load up on Kofi,” Brad Underwood said of the Illini’s offensive balance. “Da’Monte is one of the greatest 3-point shooters in America. Jake is such an explosive offensive player in his own right. You throw in Adam and Trent, all of a sudden it becomes a pretty balanced attack.”

UP NEXT

Illinois will play No. 8 Loyola-Chicago on Sunday. The Ramblers shook off No. 9 Georgia Tech on Friday afternoon.

The time, location and TV channel will be announced likely Friday night.

The winner of Sunday’s game advances to next week’s Sweet 16.