Do­sunmu, Cock­burn come up big again

Illini top Rut­gers, move into sec­ond place in the Big Ten

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - By Shan­non Ryan

CHAM­PAIGN — Wel­come to the wild Big Ten. The last two sea­sons, Illi­nois and Rut­gers fin­ished among the bot­tom four in the con­fer­ence. They bat­tled Satur­day for sole pos­ses­sion of sec­ond place.

The Illini se­cured it with a 54-51 vic­tory at the State Farm Cen­ter, win­ning their third straight con­fer­ence game.

The low-scor­ing af­fair was ugly, but will qual­ify as a beauty for fans ea­ger to see Illi­nois (12-5, 4-2) as­cend in the Big Ten. The Illini sit be­hind only Michi­gan State in the standings. Coach Brad Un­der­wood un­der­played the mean­ing.

“We have two-thirds of the sea­son left,” he told re­porters in Cham­paign. “The next game is go­ing to be just as hard as this one.”

Here are three take­aways from the Illini vic­tory:

1. Pro­tect­ing home court is vi­tal.

Illi­nois hadn’t won its first three Big Ten games in Cham­paign since the 2011-12 sea­son. In­cluded in those are wins this sea­son against con­fer­ence heavy­weights Michi­gan and Pur­due. The Illini im­proved to 10-1 over­all at home. Credit them for avoid­ing a let­down.

Give Credit to Illi­nois for avoid­ing a let­down. The Illini faced an 11 a.m. tipoff af­ter a mean­ing­ful road win against Wisconsin but de­liv­ered against a hot Rut­gers team. Illi­nois can add to its strong home record Satur­day against North­west­ern (5-9, 0-4).

2. The Illini de­fense looked dom­i­nant.

The Illini en­tered the game with the best scor­ing de­fense in con­fer­ence play, hold­ing op­po­nents to 60.8 points per game.

Rut­gers (12-4, 3-2), known for its strong de­fense, scored the sec­ond-fewest points this sea­son to Pur­due’s 37 on Sun­day. While Illi­nois strug­gled of­fen­sively, scor­ing only 18 points in the first half and shoot­ing only 28.6% from the field over­all, it held the Scar­let Knights to just 34% shoot­ing. The Illini out­re­bounded them 48-42.

“When you shoot 29%, you bet­ter find a time to win,” Un­der­wood told re­porters. “We shot 19% in the first half and found a way to win it against a good Rut­gers team. I’m proud of our guys to­day. This shows the growth we’ve been see­ing all year.” 3. It sure helps to have re­li­able stars.

No, Kofi Cock­burn and Ayo Do­sunmu haven’t been per­fect ev­ery game. But it has be­come clear they can help carry Illi­nois to vic­tory.

Cock­burn, a 7-footer, recorded his sev­enth dou­ble-dou­ble with 11 points and 17 re­bounds. His to­tal on the boards tied the fresh­man record he set this sea­son. He also hit 5 of 6 free throws.

But it was sopho­more guard Do­sunmu who again sealed the vic­tory with clutch shots — in­clud­ing four free throws in the fi­nal two min­utes. It was a strong fol­low-up to the Wisconsin vic­tory in which he made a go-ahead layup and 3-pointer in the fi­nal 90 sec­onds.

He scored 18 points Satur­day — all but two af­ter half­time — and added six re­bounds.

“Coach has that trust in me down the stretch,” Do­sunmu told re­porters. “I like to seize the mo­ment.”

HOLLY HART/AP

Illi­nois' Ayo Do­sunmu puts up a 3-point shot against Rut­gers on Sun­day in Cham­paign, Ill.

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