The last time I recapped an Illinois-Maryland game I felt like gouging my own eyes out, so I was hoping Thursday evening would be a welcome change. On the night Ayo Dosunmu returned to Champaign to watch his No. 11 get raised to the rafters at State Farm Center, the Fighting Illini improved to 11-3 (4-0 Big Ten) with a 76-64 win over the Maryland Terrapins.
The Terps had actually won seven of the previous eight meetings. At the start it appeared that Illinois would run Maryland out of the gym. Up double-digits about midway through the first half, Brad Underwood — as he is wont to do — benched Kofi Cockburn after the Illini center picked up his second foul. Maryland exploited Kofi’s absence and attacked the rim, leading to a 34-30 halftime edge.
In the second half — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — Kofi was the difference-maker. The Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year scored 23 points and tied his career-high with 19 rebounds to lead Illinois’ second-half charge. The Terrapins were simply no match for Kofi, who stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points and 15 rebounds after halftime. It’s his ninth double-double this season and the 37th of his Illini career.
23 points, 18 boards, and PLUS-28 IN A GAME WON BY 12.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) January 7, 2022
For me, this is up there with Ayo's triple-doubles.
Unleash the @kxng_alpha#Illini | #EveryDayGuys pic.twitter.com/6cpLGSKyEL— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) January 7, 2022
Kofi Cockburn is averaging 20.5 points and 15.3 rebounds in the first four Big Ten games.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) January 7, 2022
He's shooting 56.9% from the field and 77.4% from the free throw line in the four Big Ten games.
If there’s a better player in college basketball this season I’d love to meet him. Keegan Murray (Iowa) or Johnny Davis (Wisconsin) might be higher volume scorers, but no player impacts the outcome of the game quite like Kofi. The proof is in the pudding: Kofi’s impact goes beyond the box score.
Illinois was -16 in the 13 minutes Kofi was on the bench Thursday and +28 with him on the floor. He outrebounded Maryland BY HIMSELF in the second half. Maybe he — and the rest of the Illini — were gassed up after seeing Ayo’s jersey dedication ceremony, or maybe Kofi is just that damn good.
Like we saw with Luka Garza at Iowa, gameplanning to “stop” Kofi is a fool’s errand. He’s 7-feet tall and 300 pounds; as ESPN’s Seth Greenberg puts it, Kofi is a mountain masquerading as a man. The only way to really stop him is to coax him into foul trouble, which Maryland was briefly able to do Thursday night. But when Cockburn is on the court he is a bad, bad man.
Kofi Cockburn is the National Player of the Year@espn @BigTenNetwork @bigten @MarchMadnessMBB— Martin O'Donnell (@MartinOD64) January 7, 2022
Martin knows. The Big Ten knows. And hopefully, on a grander stage in March, the entire nation will, too.