CHAMPAIGN – Five Illini scored double-figures in Thursday’s 97-38 rout of visiting Chicago State at the State Farm Center in Champaign. But it was their performance on the defensive end that most pleased Coach Brad Underwood.
“Defensive rebounding, we need to be dominant there, and it takes everybody,” said Underwood. “When we defensive rebound, it gives us a great opportunity to run.”
Kofi Cockburn grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, one more than the entire Chicago State team. In all, the Illini outrebounded the Cougars 55-to-10.
Ayo Dosunmu led all scorers with 22 points plus a game-high 7 assists. Freshman point guard Andre Curbelo added 18 for Illinois.
The Thanksgiving Day game was played without spectators, due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was the second game in a multi-team event for Illinois, which beat North Carolina A&T 122-60 on Wednesday.
The game began with an unusual introduction of the starting line-ups. The team’s Social Media Director, Kelsea Ansfield, compiled a video of players’ families — from California to Chicago to Vienna to Puerto Rico & Jamaica — introducing their favorite sons via video selfies.
Cockburn said it caught them off guard, but in a good way.
“It was really overwhelming, man,” said Cockburn. “Haven’t seen my family in awhile.”
“It was just actually really, really, special,” added Trent Frazier. “Sitting there waiting for the introduction. And all I hear is my baby brother, you know, saying my name.”
Coach Underwood praised Ansfield’s effort, and said he was also touched by the moment.
“We have no families allowed at our games,” said Underwood, noting the restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “And these guys have been away from their families for quite some time. They’re not here, during a time when everybody else is with a lot of family. And that’s one of the sacrifices these guys are making. So I’m really proud of them.
Xavier Johnson led the Cougars with 10 points. Chicago State was coached by Rodell Davis, stepping in for Head Coach Lance Irvin, who informed the university this week that due to COVID risk, he would not coach the team this season. Irvin — a survivor of Acute Myeloid Leukemia — had a bone marrow transplant in 2010, and remains immuno-compromised.
The Cougars were a replacement for Wright State, which withdrew from the game, citing players sidelined by injuries, positive tests for COVID-19 and contact tracing quarantine.
The 2-0 Illini return to action at the State Farm Center at noon Central Time, Friday, against the Ohio Bobcats. That game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.