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Second half surge lifts No. 18 Illinois over Indiana

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The Illini have won eight of nine on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Bloomington, IND. — “Hell Yeah,” shouted Brad Underwood in the Illinois locker room after its 13-point win over No. 11 Wisconsin to take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Next up: going to Assembly Hall to take on Indiana in one of the hardest places to play in the country.

There were plenty of fouls and the crowd was raucous, but Illinois rode a strong second half to its eighth conference road win in its last nine tries, beating Indiana 74-57 on Saturday. It’s the Illini’s largest margin of victory in Bloomington in nearly 60 years.

“I clinch my jaw every time we talk about road games,” Underwood said Saturday. “It’s really hard to [win] and this is one of the loudest crowds in the country.”

This game was highly anticipated because it featured a matchup between two of the best big men in college basketball: Kofi Cockburn and Trayce Jackson-Davis.

The game and scoring were both back and forth early. As Illinois learned against Purdue last month, it’s hard to win when your best player is in foul trouble — Indiana got that memo early on.

With 15:44 to go in the first half, Trayce Jackson-Davis picked up his second foul on an Alfonso Plummer jump shot, sending Jackson-Davis to the bench for the rest of the first half.

Meanwhile, for Illinois (17-5, 10-2 Big Ten), coming off of perhaps the best game of his career (37 points, 12 rebounds), Cockburn struggled against the Hoosiers early. Even with Jackson-Davis sidelined for most of the first half, the Illini big man went into the locker room shooting just 2-of-7 from the field and 1-of-4 from the free throw line.

In the second half, the battle intensified between two of the Big Ten’s best. Jackson-Davis sparked Indiana (16-6, 7-5 Big Ten) with six points and four rebounds in the second period. However, it was Cockburn who had the edge. The big man finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, with most of his damage coming in the game’s final 20 minutes.

After trailing by as many as eight early, the Illini were able to close the gap to 36-34 at the half.

“We knew it was going to be a fight,” Underwood said. “I was happy to be going into the half only down two.”

The second half was a see-saw battle initially, with neither team building a lead greater than four points until under the 10-minute mark when a Frazier layup capped a 10-0 run for Illinois, stretching its lead to six.

“To talk about the day Trent Frazier had,” Underwood said. “He was terrific. He just eats up pressure.”

The Hoosiers were quickly reinvigorated by an Xavier Johnson triple, but a Cockburn three-point play and an icy Frazier three gave Illinois a nine-point lead — the largest by either team in the game up to that point. The Illini never turned back.

“In the second half our defense was terrific,” Underwood said. “I think our offense allowed the defense to be great.”

That’s when the Illini finally began to pull away, holding Indiana to just 21 points in the second half and putting up 40.

Their 17-point win keeps them atop the Big Ten’s conference standings.

STAT STUFFERS

Trent Frazier (ILL): 23 points, 3-of-6 3FG, 4 assists

Alfonso Plummer (ILL): 14 points

Kofi Cockburn (ILL): 17 points, 8 rebounds

Xavier Johnson (IND): 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists

Race Thompson (IND): 13 points, 6 rebounds

SOUND SMART

  • Maybe a not so fun fact.
  • Indiana is one of the best teams in the Big Ten when it comes to defending its homecourt. Coming into Saturday’s game, Indiana had the most home wins in the Big Ten (13) and were one of just four teams that had lost one or fewer games at home this season (Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue). Illinois handed Indiana its second home loss of the year.
  • Illinois has been the best road team in the Big Ten over the past two seasons. The Illini have been victorious in eight of their last nine road contests dating back to last season, and over the last two years are 13-3 in conference on the road. “I think we won one (conference road game) in our first two years,” Underwood reminisced.
  • After three more triples Saturday, Frazier needs just 5 more made threes to pass Dee Brown for No. 2 in program history (Cory Bradford’s 327 is the program-high).
  • Illinois’ 10-2 start in conference play is the program’s best since the 2004-05 Final Four season.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Indiana’s student section after the Illini second half surge:

TWEET(S) OF THE GAME

Welcome to the Andre Curbelo Experience™️, CQ.

UP NEXT

Illinois stays in the state of Indiana for a rematch against No. 4 Purdue. That game was scheduled for Thursday but has since been moved to Tuesday at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.

Purdue won the first matchup 96-88 in double OT in January.