IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Fighting Illini men’s basketball team beat Iowa 87-83 last night in Iowa City. Jacob Grandison and Alfonso Plummer hit 4 three-pointers each, and scored 21 points apiece to lead Illinois.
The two sealed the game against an Iowa comeback, with Plummer draining a three-pointer with 80 seconds remaining. Grandison was 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Plummer made all five of his attempts.
On the season, Plummer is 28-28 from the line. For the night, the Illini converted 24-28 free throws, including 4-4 for center Kofi Cockburn.
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood says he was pleased with his team’s fundamentals.
“It was not pretty. I’m ecstatic because I think we did a couple of the things that you need to do to win on the road, and that’s rebounding and execute late, and that includes free-throw shooting,” Underwood said.
Cockburn tallied his 32nd career double-double with 17 points and 18 rebounds, the latter a career high. Illinois out-rebounded the Hawkeyes 52-23.
Trent Frazier scored 18 points on 3-5 three-point shooting. He also grabbed 8 rebounds from the point guard position. Perhaps most impressively, he shut down Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon, a prolific three-point shooter in his own right. Bohannon started the game, but played only about 17 minutes and scored four points.
Sophomore Tony Perkins took the majority of the minutes at Bohannon’s shooting guard position, and scored 16 points. Keegan Murray led the Hawkeyes with 19 points. Patrick McCaffery added 12 for Iowa.
The Illini withstood a 21-2 Iowa scoring run midway through the first half, then closed the period with a 17-5 run of their own. The halftime score was 39-36 in favor of the visitors. Grandison, a graduate student with a degree in Environmental Sustainability, says he tried to be the voice of calm in the huddle.
“Whoever’s in the game, the five people, gotta kinda tell everybody to calm down and settle in. They (Iowa) sped us up a little bit. Had us on our heels a little bit with the press,” Grandison said. “So we gotta be better with that. But leadership, attention to detail, execution.”
Underwood took responsibility for his team’s inability to navigate Iowa’s pressure defense, and failure to feed the ball to Cockburn — the pre-season Big Ten Player of the Year — in the first half.
“The press bothered us. I gotta do a better job with that. I’m really happy we withstood I think it was a 17-0 run,” Underwood said. “We just got out of character. We didn’t do a very good job, the first half, getting the ball to Kofi. They (Iowa) deserve a lot of that credit. Made a few adjustments the second half. Our spacing was much better. We can’t have halves where he (Cockburn) has one field goal attempt.”
Underwood praised all his top scorers of the game, but the fifth-year Illini coach reserved special praise for sophomore Coleman Hawkins — who fouled out in 24 minutes of play — for his defensive work against Hawkeye star Keegan Murray.
“Plummer was great again. Jacob Grandison’s been elite. Trent Frazier we can never take out of a game (he played 37 minutes),” Underwood said. “And then I thought Coleman Hawkins was outstanding in his stint. Got a little foul trouble but I thought early did a great job on Murray.”
Iowa drops to 0-2 in conference, and 7-2 on the year. The Illini are 2-0 in the Big Ten and 7-2 overall. They’ve now won four straight Big Ten road games, and nine of their last 10. They return to action Saturday afternoon, hosting 11th-ranked Arizona in a game postponed from last year due to COVID-19. Tip time is 1 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
Rob McColley covers University of Illinois sports for WILL.