The top-20 matchup between Illinois and Purdue on Monday more than lived up to the billing in what was easily the most entertaining game of the Big Ten season. The game was filled with runs, elite shotmaking, and a bunch of storylines.
From the Illini’s perspective this was a tough loss, but there were definitely some positives to draw upon.
Let’s a take a look at both the good and the bad from this game,
With Kofi Cockburn and Omar Payne in foul trouble, Brad Underwood had no choice but to turn to the redshirt-sophomore.
BBV gave the Illini 20 vital minutes and more than held his own against the Purdue bigs in the second half and overtimes. He made a bunch of hustle plays, caused some turnovers, and made the right passes on offense to keep the Boilermakers honest on defense.
Before Monday, he had never played more than 5 minutes in a Big Ten game, but he never looked like he was overmatched. Honestly, we could write a whole article on just BBV’s performance against Purdue. What a time to have the best game of your life.
Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk was thrown into a tough match-up off the bench with two of the best big men in the Big Ten. His career day won't show much in the stat sheet, but his effort helped keep Illinois in it until the end.— Andy Olson (@WCIA3Andy) January 17, 2022
"It's that next up mentality constantly." pic.twitter.com/bVIMbn9zFd
We got some positive news before the game with Andre Curbelo being available to play for the first time since late November. Any notion that Curbelo would be eased back in or his minutes would be monitored went out the window given the game context.
Curbelo showed no signs of rust and silenced all the doubters that tried to say that the Illini were better off without him. Without his elite play down the stretch and his electric playmaking there is no chance this game would have been close.
Yes, Illinois lost the game against Purdue, but the tough fight the Orange and Blue displayed despite not having their best player was very impressive.
Without Kofi on the court the Illini never gave up and played the second half very motivated. They were able to adapt their gameplan and hand over the game to the guards, while Curbelo, Alfonso Plummer, and Trent Frazier all stepped up and hit big shots and attacked the interior, despite the obvious height disadvantage against the likes of Zach Edey.
Being able to stay in games when Plan A is taken away bodes well for what we hope is a team that is going to be playing meaningful games in March.
Illinois and Designed Plays
Down the stretch it seemed that Purdue was just more organized and prepared than the Illini were. Every time it seemed like the Boilers needed a bucket, Matt Painter had the perfect play drawn up for them. Purdue iced the game on consecutive set pieces that got them easy lay ups at the rim, and there was nothing the Illini could do.
On the other hand, it seemed like Illinois had to work a lot harder for its shots. If Underwood wants to limit the individual pressure on his guys, we need to have some of those effective set pieces as well. Illinois got bailed out by some tough shots going in by both Plummer and Curbelo down the stretch, and in general, it seemed like Illinios’ shots were a result of individual brilliance and not because of quality offensive scheme.
Coming into this game, the big man showdowns of Kofi and Payne vs. Edey and Trevion Williams was the headline, and it’s safe to say that the Purdue bigs thoroughly won that matchup.
Edey was efficient throughout regulation and was able to get to his spots no matter who was on him. It didn’t matter even when Illinois’ bigs seemed to have good position he just kept making shots, which led to some eventual frustration fouls by the Illini.
On the other end Purdue made Kofi work the hardest he’s had to all year as he wasn’t able just rely on his strength to create space in the paint. Kofi struggled early and often on the offensive end, and Payne didn’t even get a shot off.
Overall, the discipline from Payne and Kofi needs to better. Illinois clawed back into the game with a 10-0 run and got a 24-20 lead, but then Payne got called for a Flagrant 1 away from the ball, which returned the momentum to Purdue down the stretch of the first half.
Kofi on the other hand got fouls 3 and 4 within a minute of each other in the second half and had to watch from the bench for majority of the period. As Illinois’ best player the Illini just need Kofi to maintain his composure. Even if he’s not producing offensively, his presence on the court makes Illinois a much better team.
Purdue showed why it’s a top-5 team, and it had an answer for everything the Illini threw at them and never lost their composure. That being said, with Curbelo back and some better foul management by Kofi and Payne, there is no reason to believe Illinois can’t flip the result on Feb. 10 in West Lafayette.