Illinois’ hot streak continued Saturday in Bloomington, as the Illini put together a strong second half to put away the Hoosiers on the road.
As it has been quite often this season, it was a tale of two halves for the Illini, who went into the locker room down 2 but ended up with the win going away by 17. The Illini have firmly put themselves on the fast track for the conference crown, but a big test coming up against Purdue coming will go a long way to deciding who will be sitting at the top next month.
The matchup of Kofi Cockburn and Trayce Jackson-Davis was billed as the headliner, but the latter struggled to make an impact due to foul trouble, finding himself on the bench for much of both halves. In limited minutes, TJD was largely ineffective and quiet all night, as he finished with only 6 points on 3-of-9 shooting.
The defense stole the show in the first half on both sides, especially against Cockburn, who started only 2-of-7 shooting for 5 points. That was driven in large part by IU backup center Michael Durr’s stout defensive effort in the first half. However, he ended up in more foul trouble in the second half and ultimately fouled out.
The Illini’s defensive effort kept up for the full 40 minutes, while the Hoosiers were ultimately overwhelmed by the combination of Trent Frazier and Cockburn in the second half.
It was still a back and forth affair, thanks to the scoring efforts of Xavier Johnson (12 points) and Race Thompson (13 points) for IU, until Jacob Grandison’s back-to-back threes powered a 16-3 run that helped put the Hoosiers away.
Alfonso Plummer and Da’Monte Williams also contributed a couple of threes each to keep the Illini offense humming.
Whenever the Hoosiers were trying to make a push, there always seemed to be an answer from Frazier (23 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 4 assists), who helped pace the Illini with playmaking and scoring, including going 5-of-6 from the field in the second half and offset a below average day for Cockburn. His defensive prowess helped the Illini hold down the Hoosiers to a mere 36% shooting from the field and 23% from three.
Despite being held below his season average, Cockburn wore down the Indiana defense and came up with 12 points in the second half to finish with 17 points and 8 rebounds, just short of another double double for the All-American.
The Illini’s strong performances against Wisconsin and Indiana have built up the energy for an all important showdown against Purdue, which will dramatically set the Illini apart from the rest of the field if they come out of West Lafayette with a win.
Illinois has started to hit its stride at just the right time as the brunt of the schedule is now upon them. Now that they’re back to full strength as a roster, things should be looking up from here as Andre Curbelo starts to get more minutes and finds himself back in playing shape.
The finish to the Big Ten regular season will be exciting, and I expect the Illini to be right there vying for the Big Ten crown when it’s all said and done next month.