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Illinois puts hot Big Ten start up against Maryland

Sportsnaut
Dec 18, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) hugs teammate Da'Monte Williams (20) during the second half against the Saint Francis Red Flash at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) hugs teammate Da’Monte Williams (20) during the second half against the Saint Francis Red Flash at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Kofi Cockburn has gotten used to double- and triple-teams in the low post, so the Illinois star was pleasantly surprised by the tactics Minnesota used for Tuesday night’s Big Ten Conference game.

The Golden Gophers took their chances with 6-9 forwards Eric Curry and Charlie Daniels defending the 7-0, 285-pound Cockburn straight up. They lost.

Cockburn worked over both for 29 points and 10 rebounds in the Fighting Illini’s 76-53 win that improved them to 3-0 in the conference and 10-3 overall.

Next up for Cockburn and Illinois: a Thursday night home game with Maryland at Champaign, which, on paper, looks like a good opportunity to stay unbeaten in the conference.

“I’m shocked,” Cockburn said about getting single coverage. “Sometimes, I put the ball on the floor and I’m so paranoid because I’m looking. I’m scoping to see if somebody’s coming.”

He didn’t have to worry about it much at Minnesota. On one of the rare instances when the Gophers offered help, it didn’t do much good. Cockburn powered through two defenders and converted a short bank shot.

Cockburn missed Illinois’ first three games due to an NCAA suspension for accepting name, image and likeness revenue before the state made it legal, but over the last 10 he has averaged 22.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

Maryland (8-5, 0-2) is coming off an 80-75 loss Monday at Iowa when the Terrapins allowed 35 points to Keegan Murray, the top scorer in Division I at 24.5 points per game.

All five Terrapins starters scored in double figures, led by 19 from Eric Ayala and 16 from Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell. Maryland shot better than 45.9 percent from the field and earned a 38-34 advantage on the boards, but its inability to contain Murray spelled doom.

“No moral victories, but there’s some areas where we feel like if we get better, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win any game that we play,” said interim coach Danny Manning.

Manning is 3-2 since taking over for Mark Turgeon, who resigned on Dec. 3.

–Field Level Media