INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WCIA) — Giorgi Bezhanishvili was ready for the moment. The Illinois junior forward was thrust into action Wednesday night against No. 2 Baylor at the Jimmy V Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse after Kofi Cockburn found himself in early foul trouble. With 11 minutes left in the first half, Cockburn was out of the game with two fouls, meaning the five-spot was all Giorgi’s. He didn’t disappoint, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the first half.
“Just had to step up,” Bezhanishvili said. “Obviously Kofi’s a great player, he’s not going to have a lot of nights like this but when he does, other players have to step up and it was me tonight. I just came out ready, stayed ready and stepped up for him but he’s not going to have a lot of nights like this, I promise you that.”
Cockburn finished with four fouls, playing just 18 minutes, the second least amount in his college career. His seven points and four rebounds were season lows for the 7-foot Jamaican.
After a slow start, freshman Andre Curbelo flashed in the second half. The Puerto Rican scored all of his 11 points in the final 20 minutes, going 3-for-6 from the field, dishing four assists. After the game, Illinois head coach Brad Underwood revealed Curbelo missed eight days of practice with a concussion in November. He also hurt his ankle in last week’s multi-team event in Champaign but showed no ill effects in Indy.
“He’s elite now,” Underwood said. “I’m just throwing that out there. Moving forward, we’ll continue to see guys load up on Ayo and I welcome that challenge with Curbelo and what’s he’s capable of as he continues to grow.”