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MINNEAPOLIS – The sample size was very small, but fans of Illinois basketball had to feel decent about the way the team handled themselves in their first two Big Ten games in December.

Wins over Rutgers then Iowa gave a glimpse of what the team could do once the Illini got to the full Big Ten season in January.

But a COVID-19 outbreak during the team’s Christmas break that forced the cancellation of one game and the delaying of their contest at Minnesota by two days had some wondering what the team might do when they returned to play on Tuesday.

Illinois had a decisive answer when they got the chance to play the Gophers at Williams Arena.

Led by a strong effort from center Kofi Cockburn, the Illini ran past Minnesota 76-53 in a contest which they led by double-digits for the majority of the game. Illinois improves to 3-0 in the Big Ten in their first game since the victory over Missouri on December 22nd and improves to 10-3 overall as they look to find their form in hopes of making a run at a regular season conference championship.

Cockburn was the star of the effort, enjoying one of his best performances of the season despite rolling his ankle in the first half. He finished with 29 points, his second-highest total of the season – along with ten rebounds and four blocks on the evening.

With the center leading the way, Illinois outrebounded Minnesota 52-26 including a 13-6 advantage. They built a 41-30 lead at the half and never looked back with the team also getting 11 points from Jacob Grandison and ten from Alfonso Plummer.

Illinois will now deal with a very quick turnaround thanks to their game against the Gophers being pushed back due to the outbreak. They’ll face Maryland at home on Thursday in Champaign on a night where they’ll honor former All-American guard and current Chicago Bulls’ guard Ayo Dosunmu.