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Williams’ Defense Leads Illini Over Minnesota 59-51

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Da'Monte Williams blocks a game-tying attempt by Minnesota's Alihan Demir late in the Illini's 59-51 win on Thursday.

Thursday was Pride Night at the State Farm Center, but that’s not the reason Illini men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood kissed Da’Monte Williams following a 59-51 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Brad Underwood answers questions from reporters after a 59-51 win over Minnesota.

“I told him in the locker room, ‘I won’t kiss my wife tonight because I’m gonna kiss you,’ and I kissed him right on the forehead,” Underwood said. “Toughness, grit. You look at our stat sheets a lot of times; you maybe don’t see the most glaring numbers for Da’Monte.”

The Peoria native scored zero points, which is not unusual for him. Williams earned his starting spot on the defensive end. 

He laughed along with teammates Andres Feliz and Kofi Cockburn when asked about the kiss from Underwood.

“(laughter) Just a happy moment. We got the win. Yeah, just a happy moment,” Williams said.

But to Williams, perhaps more than any other Illini, the game is not a laughing matter. On the point differential metric, Williams scored higher than any Illini. His team converted 14 more points than Minnesota while he was on the court. Williams achieved that statistic by denying offensive opportunities for the Gophers.

On an off-shooting night for Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier, Feliz provided the scoring punch He led the Illini with 17 points, and also grabbed 8 rebounds.

Andres Feliz drives to the basket during Illinois’ 59-51 win over Minnesota Thursday in Champaign. Rob McColley/for Illinois Public Media

Kofi Cockburn — who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the 7th time on Monday — notched a quiet double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Illinois. Dosunmu also scored 13 points for Illinois, on 4-12 shooting.

Daniel Oturu led all scorers with 20 for the Gophers.

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino answers questions following his team’s loss at Illinois.

Underwood addressed Pride Night, which saw the State Farm Center bathed in rainbow colors, rather than the usual orange and blue.

“That’s what our world’s about. Everybody’s got that right to pick … and make that decision on their own. And we recognized that tonight.”

Minnesota drops to 11-10 on the season, and 5-6 in Big Ten play. The Illini are now 16-5 overall, and tied for the Big Ten lead with Michigan state at 8-2. But they’ll face ranked opponents in their next five games, beginning at Iowa on Sunday. That game tips at noon CT.

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