CHAMPAIGN – A chance to breathe a bit is a rare opportunity for any college basketball team on a normal year and especially one during a pandemic.
Frequent schedule changes are the norm for most everyone as COVID-19 forces either postponements or outright cancellations. Yet Illinois had this chance this past week as 2020 turned to 2021.
Illinois had a full week between their game against Indiana on the day after Christmas and Saturday’s against Purdue at the State Farm Center. That included three-days in a row due to an NCAA mandate that requires teams to give the players that amount of time off during the holiday week.
“It was a crazy week,” said Underwood. “I’ve never been in the middle of a season and had to take three-straight days off that our guys were here.”
But the team dealt with the break just fine against the Boilermakers, and did what they did in their game before the break: Finish strong.
Illinois shook of a 17-0 run by the Boilermakers at the end of the first and start of the second half to pull ahead and then away for a 66-58 win. It’s the third-in-a-row for the Illini in conference as they now sit 4-1 in the Big Ten, which puts in second place along by a half-game.
Both Kofi Cockburn and Da’Monte Williams registered double-doubles on the night and were critical to the second-half run that erased a six-point Purdue lead. Williams (12-points, ten rebounds) started the comeback with one of his four-three pointers on the game while Cockburn (14-points, ten rebounds) gave the Illini the lead with a layup at the 12:50 mark.
The Illini would never trail again as the 22-6 run put the Boilermakers away.
Ayo Dosunmu contributed 12 points in the effort and he had some help from a pair of emerging freshmen. Adam Miller scored ten points while Andre Curbelo got eight along with a team-high six assists.