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22nd-Ranked Illini Top Weary Nittany Lions 79-65

Kofi Cockburn hammers two of his game-high 21 points, during Tuesday's 79-65 Illinois win over Penn State at the State Farm Center.

CHAMPAIGN – Kofi Cockburn is the national leader in men’s college basketball double-doubles, and he notched his eleventh of the season Tuesday night in a 79-65 Illini basketball win over Penn State at the State Farm Center.

Cockburn scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, game-highs for both categories. He said teamwork was the key to success.

“We elevated each other,” said Cockburn of himself and his teammates. “We had 18 assists. In one basketball game, that’s really great — like Coach (Illinois head coach Brad Underwood) told us just now. It’s just elevating each other, playing for each other. You know, sharing the ball, come back on defense and just playing for the guy beside you. We did that really well today.”

Cockburn was 6-of-10 on field goals, a worse percentage than his season average (70.1%). But he connected on 9-of-13 free throws Tuesday, an improvement on recent performance. 

He was relieved.

“It kind of got to me,” said Cockburn. “I started pausing my shot, and doing all kinds of stuff with my shot. And it was just Coach — he got on me so much — he said I’m really good when I’m making free throws because guys have to foul me to stop me. So it’s just extra hours in the gym. Putting up 300 makes a day, with coach. And just stepping up to the line with confidence and knocking the shot down, the way I could.”

Penn State’s interim head coach Jim Ferry watched more basketball than he coached in January, due to COVID-19 postponements. He compared the Illini team of Tuesday to the Illini team that visited State College on December 23rd.

“I thought, as a team, their whole defensive disposition was significantly different,” said Ferry. “They were really physical. They were physical with our guards. They were physical on ball screens. It looked like a team. They were playing with a sense of urgency. You know, they just lost two games in a row at home and I thought you could tell, defensively, they were really locked in.

“When you have Kofi inside, and Ayo on the outside, that’s a great combination. And I think it allows other guys to just play. Those other guys don’t really have to do much, they can just play off those guys. And that’s what makes them a really good team.

Myreon Jones led Penn State with 20 points. Seth Lundy added 13. John Harrar grabbed 9 rebounds for the Lions. Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu each scored 13 points for Illinois. Dosunmu added a game-high five assists. Penn State won the rebounding battle 40-35. Illinois committed 15 turnovers, while the Nittany Lions turned the ball over 16 times.

The game was delayed by a skirmish between the teams which resulted in three technical fouls. A fourth technical foul was later assessed to Illini freshman Coleman Hawkins for taunting after blocking a Penn state shot. Illini coach Brad Underwood said he liked the freshman’s attitude, which reminded him of his younger self as a college player in the 1980s.

Underwood started Jacob Grandison in place of Da’Monte Williams, as he continues to find fives of players who work well together.

“The insertion of Jacob worked out nice, and it wasn’t that Da’Monte had been doing anything poorly,” said Underwood. “I thought it was just a change. You guys (the media) know I don’t care about who starts and who doesn’t. It’s about trying to find that mix. I made a concentrated effort to try and get Coleman (Hawkins) more minutes & involved in the ballgame. 

“Eighteen assists tonight is something I’m really proud of. I’m really proud of our execution against the (Penn State) zone (defense). We have not seen a lot of zone. We’ve got a very, very good passing team and that was very evident tonight.”

Penn State drops to 0-5 in the Big Ten Conference, and 3-6 overall. The Nittany Lions will continue to play every other day while they catch up on COVID-19 postponements, beginning with a home game against Rutgers on Thursday. 

Illinois is now 10-5, 6-3 in conference. Their next scheduled game, Saturday at Michigan State, has been postponed due to COVID. The next game after that on the Illini schedule is Friday, January 29th, at home against Iowa.

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