Illinois tried to do something that No. 5 Purdue, No. 18 Ohio State and No. 19 Michigan State couldn’t do: beat Rutgers on the road.
Illinois has the reputation of one of the best road teams in the Big Ten, with wins in 12 of its last 16 road league games — but they could not get it done at the RAC. Rutgers (16-9, 10-5 BIG) never trailed in the game, topping No. 12 Illinois 70-59 on Wednesday night in New Jersey.
The Illini (18-7, 11-4 BIG) had trouble with Rutgers’ physical defense and were dominated on the glass. Aside from Kofi Cockburn, who scored the first seven Illini points of the game and finished with 20, the offense was limited.
Illinois relies heavily on the three at times, and opened the game 0-of-12 from distance. After putting up only 29 points in the second half against Northwestern on 1-13 shooting from three, Illinois followed that up with just 24 points on 32% shooting.
The Illini clawed to be down nine at the break, but Rutgers opened the second half on a 14-4 run — stretching its lead to 19. Illinois never was able to figure out Rutgers defensively. That, paired with an uncharacteristically cold shooting night left the Illini with no solution.
Illinois put together a late run, aided by freshman RJ Melendez. The rookie scored 10 points in the second half, and the Illini cut the deficit to single digits — but it was too little too late.
The last time these two teams squared off, Illinois ran them off the floor with a 35-point win. Illini head coach Brad Underwood said this week, “Rutgers is not the same team we saw the first time around, that’s for sure.”
Underwood is absolutely correct. The Scarlet Knights have won four straight Big Ten games over ranked teams and have six Quad 1 wins on the season. Rutgers is now just a game out of first place in the Big Ten, and the Illini are tied with Purdue and Wisconsin at 11-4 for first place. Purdue has a chance to take the conference lead with a win over Northwestern Wednesday.
Kofi Cockburn (ILL): 20 points, 10 rebounds
Trent Frazier (ILL): 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists
Clifford Omoruyi (RUT): 15 points, 13 rebounds
Ron Harper Jr. (RUT): 16 points, 8 rebounds
Paul Mulcahy (RUT): 13 points, 7 assists
- Kofi Cockburn is the only player in the country averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game nationally. With 20 and 10 against Rutgers, Cockburn picked up his 14th double-double of the year, leading the Big Ten. That also marked his 42nd career double-double, which gives him the Illinois program record, passing Skip Thoren’s 41.
- Trent Frazier came into Wednesday’s game with 296 threes in his career. After sinking three threes he has tied Dee Brown (299) for second in program history. Only Cory Bradford (327) has more.
- Alfonso Plummer leads the Big Ten with 74 threes made this season. He is five made threes away from getting into the top-10 in Illini history for threes in a season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
I feel bad for the rim.
Kofi keeps comin' @IlliniMBB is battling back at Rutgers: pic.twitter.com/tKjFkrUMqn— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) February 17, 2022
TWEET OF THE GAME
if we are losing at halftime we must meet outside the west springfield jersey mike's in peaceful protest.— Champaign Showers (@217Showers) February 17, 2022
The Illini stay on the road for a ranked battle in East Lansing this weekend. Illinois visits No. 19 Michigan State at 11 a.m. on ESPN.