CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois men’s basketball team improved to 4-0 in the Big Ten with a 76-64 win over Maryland Thursday night in Champaign.
It wasn’t easy.
After his team squandered a 14 point first half lead, head coach Brad Underwood entered the team’s locker room at halftime.
“It was very professional, very businesslike. And they knew what they had to do,” Underwood said. “I started to say something, and Da’Monte (Williams) jumps in, he says ‘coach, we already talked about that. We’re good.’ Okay. When you don’t have to coach ’em, and they’re coaching themselves because they know, you’re in a good place.”
Listen to Brad Underwood’s postgame press conference here.
The second half saw junior center Kofi Cockburn out-rebound the entire Terrapins team 15-12 as the Illini defense clamped down. In total, Cockburn grabbed a career-high tying 18 boards. He also scored a game-high 23 points.
But Cockburn joined Underwood in saying that the game was decided at the defensive end, and pointed to Williams as the instigator.
“Da’Monte’s the X factor for us. He does all the dirty work. He comes out hard and plays hard defense,” Cockburn said. “He sacrifices a lot. He’s just that guy that’s about the team and about winning. He really gives his all for the team and the guys next to him.”
Listen to Kofi Cockburn and Trent Frazier’s postgame press conference here.
Williams defended Maryland’s leading scorer, Donta Scott, during the second half. Scott had scored 15 points in the first period, but converted only 1-5 shots in the second. He was the Terrapins leading scorer for the game with 17 points Eric Ayala added 16 points on 3-5 shooting from three-point range.
Cockburn played only 8 minutes in the first half after he picked up two early fouls, and Underwood chose to deviate from his previously established policy of not worrying about foul trouble when Cockburn, Williams or Trent Frazier acquired a second personal foul in the first half of any game. None of those players is prone to foul trouble.
In the second half, Cockburn became the source of foul trouble for Maryland. Terrapin defenders Qudus Wahab and Julian Reese both fouled out of the game while trying to stop Cockburn’s interior scoring and rebounding.
Frazier was the offensive force during a second-half stretch that saw Illinois wrench a lead and ultimately the game from the Terrapins. He scored 14 of his 16 points in the period, including 4-6 three-pointers. He’d made 0-5 attempts from behind the arc in the first half.
That cold shooting was endemic among an Illini team that’s become accustomed to its own hot hand. Alfonso Plummer, who’d been shooting 46% on the season, managed only 2-8 Thursday. Jacob Grandison had converted more than half of his attempts on the year. He finished 1-5 from long distance, and 2-12 overall against Maryland.
The Terrapins drop to 0-3 in the Big Ten, 8-6 overall. The Illini are now 11-3 and tied with Michigan State as the only remaining undefeated teams in conference play. They have the weekend to make up practice time lost to their recent COVID pause before rejoining live action on Tuesday at Nebraska.
Rob McColley covers University of Illinois sports for WILL.