CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Illinois shot less than 30% from the field, less than 15% from three, and still came out on top 54-51 against Rutgers on Saturday.
The Illini were 18/63 from the field and 2/14 from three but rebounds and defense propelled them for their third win in a row.
Ayo Dosunmu lead Illinois with 18 points, also seven rebounds. Kofi Cockburn recorded his seventh double-double as an Illini with 11 points and 17 rebounds. His seven double-doubles break the Illini freshman record. The 17 rebounds tie his Illinois freshman single game record he set earlier this season against The Citadel.
Getting to second place in the Big Ten never looked so ugly, but Ayo Dosunmu brought the State Farm Center back to life after a sleepy start. He led the Illini to their biggest lead, which came with just 30 seconds left in the game. The Illini protected home court, with three point win over the Scarlet Knights.
“It’s not going to be pretty, this one is where you have to really focus in your techniques and responsibilities,” Dosunmu said.
“An ugly win is much better than a pretty loss when you look at the stat sheets. It’s why we play this is to figure out ways to win,” Brad Underwood said. “We’ve been striving, and striving, and striving to win games when the ball doesn’t go, and you have to figure out how to do that.
The Illini started the first half 6-31 from the field. Their 26% shooting was the worst in a Big Ten victory in ten years, but they made up for it on the free throw line, 10 for 11 in the second half, giving them the edge over Rutgers.
“[Free throws] make it very easy for you getting down the stretch. When I shoot my free throws in practice, I shoot them the same way for moments like that,” Dosunmu said.
Several missed shots also gave Kofi Cockburn the an advantage, he matched his own single game freshman record for most rebounds, also becoming the Illini record holder for most double doubles in a season by a freshman
“That’s required of me as a big man, for my teammates and my coaches, and it feels refreshing knowing I can go out there and rebound the ball the way I did,” Cockburn said.
The Illini have now played five games over the last 14 days but lucky for them, they’ll get a break this week before returning to the State Farm Center to host Northwestern.
Illinois is now 12-5 on the season and 4-2 in the Big Ten, in sole possession of 2nd place. They host Northwestern next Saturday at 4:00 p.m.