KANSAS CITY — One night after a blowout loss to Cincinnati, the Fighting Illini men’s basketball team figured things out on offense well enough to beat former head coach Bruce Weber’s Kansas State team 72-64 at the Hall of Fame Classic.
Illinois guard Alfonso Plummer connected on 7-9 three-pointers for 21 points. That long-range threat opened the middle for center Kofi Cockburn, who tallied game highs with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Plummer says Cockburn has realized that passing the ball will help the whole team.
“We all know that they’re going to double, triple-team Kofi.” Plummer said. “There’s going to be open shooters in the corner, on the wings. So he understands that. He’s a smart guy, a smart player.”
Weber agreed with Plummer’s assessment, saying it’s the second weapon that makes Cockburn so dangerous.
“You know Kofi’s going to get stuff inside, he’s just such a monster, and they do a good job of getting it to him,” Weber said. “But when the other guys step up and make those plays, those are the things that make a difference.”
The biggest concern for the Illini after the game was the overall health of the team. Point guard Andre Curbelo continues to suffer from a concussion sustained earlier in the season.
Illinois coach Brad Underwood says it’s an ongoing issue.
“Dre’s (Curbelo’s) been fighting all the head trauma, the concussion stuff. You know, it’s kind of been a game-by-game deal,” Underwood said. “We’re never going to jeopardize a young man’s health or well-being. When he says ‘no’ that means ‘no’ and we get him out.”
Five-year starter Trent Frazier, the team’s other prominent ball-handler, was carried off the court after seeming to hyper-extend a knee. Underwood said after the game that he had no information to share on Frazier’s injury.
Markquis Nowell led the Wildcats with 19 points, and also grabbed a team-high six rebounds despite being the smallest player on the court. His listed height is 5’7″, which appears generous. Nijel Pack added 15 points, and Ish Massoud 13 for Kansas State.
The Illini improved to 3-2 on the young season. Kansas State dropped to 2-2. Illinois returns to action Friday at 7 pm when they host another former coach’s former team. UT-Rio Grande Valley was known as Texas-Pan American when Lon Kruger coached there in the 1980s. There’s no TV for Friday’s game, which will be streamed on Big Ten Plus.
Rob McColley covers University of Illinois sports for WILL.