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It’s hard to win in the Big Ten without your best players

Without their All-American, the Illini dropped another contest.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Illini took on Danny Manning’s Maryland Terripans on Friday night in College Park.

And like so many games this year, Illinois would be without one of its biggest weapons — except this time it was Kofi Cockburn.

Cockburn suffered a concussion earlier in the week, and despite not having their big man, the Illini hung with the Terrapin early.

The two teams had a combined 30 points just 6 minutes into the first half. For the Illini, Alfonso Plummer got out to a quick start with 8 points and continued to impress from deep.

But without Kofi though the Terrapins took advantage and pounded the paint. The hot start dissipated for both teams with a couple minutes remaining in the first half. The Illini would go 1-for-8 over a 6 minute stretch at the end of the first half. Overall, the period was back in fourth, but the Illini closed out the half very sloppy.

Still, they only found themselves down 2 going into the second half.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Again in the second half, Illinois came out knocking down shots.

Plummer and Trent Frazier knocked down two quick threes. Maryland would take a timeout at the 17-minute mark, and the Illini had a 5-point lead. Over the next 7 minutes, the game again went back and forth and at the under-12 media timeout, Illinois found itself still with a 4-point lead.

From this point on, though, Maryland would dominate Illinois on both sides of the ball. Donta Scott and the Terps went on a 24-7 run over the last eight minutes, securing the paint and locking up the Illini’s offense. Scott would score a career-high with 25 points off the bench.

Even though Cockburn was a sideline, Illinois got to see some minutes from Andre Curbelo. Only his second game back since his extended absence, Curbelo would have a rough outing with 3 turnovers and only 1 assist. All things considered, Maryland would go on to defeat No. 17 Illinois, 81-65.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

So what does it mean?

Without All-American Kofi Cockburn, there is plenty of reason to believe the outcome of this game is entirely different than it’d be with him on the court.

Maryland was able to close out both halves strong, and get to the rim essentially whenever it wanted without the big man on the court.

And Illinois’ offense struggled a bit, too. The Illini shot 39% and had long cold stretches.

Simply put, it is a bad loss to lose to a team that entered 1-6 in Big Ten play, but we have to remember this is the Big Ten and anyone can lose on any given night.

Without Cockburn in the lineup and Curbelo still getting his ‘sea-legs’ under him, the Illini should be just fine if they can get fully healthy. The loss puts them tied for second place in Big Ten standings with Wisconsin, while Michigan State claims first place with its win over the Badgers on Friday.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

What’s next?

You think things are already hard? They’re about to get harder.

On Tuesday, Illinois returns home to welcome Tom Izzo and Sparty. The games that follow include showdowns with ranked foes Wisconsin and Purdue.

And with Kofi’s status up in the air, the Illini could really put themselves in a tough spot if they can't find a way to win without him.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We have seen how dominant Kofi can be on any given night, and we’re confident Curbelo will find his groove with some more games under his belt. As unfortunate as all the injuries have been for the Illini this year, they should be plenty tested by the time March comes around to make a run. There is still plenty of season left.