No. 12 Illinois sets sights on Maryland

NCAA Basketball

Illinois 7-foot center Kofi Cockburn is solidifying his place among the Big Ten’s most dominant frontcourt players.

Cockburn will look to continue his stellar sophomore season when the No. 12 Fighting Illini host the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday night.

Cockburn helped orchestrate Illinois’ remarkable 81-56 comeback-turned-rout of Northwestern this past Thursday in which the Illini outscored the Wildcats 53-13 in the second half after being down by 15 at the half.

According to STATS, Illinois (9-3, 5-1 Big Ten) became the first Division I team in the past 25 seasons to trail by at least 15 at halftime and come back to win by 20 or more. The Illini are also the first team to outscore a major conference opponent by at least 40 points in a single half since Kentucky outscored Vanderbilt by 43 in the second half of a 106-44 win on March 5, 2003.

“I’ve never been (a part) of anything like that,” Cockburn said. “I was in awe. Just being on the floor, watching it happen, being a part of it, it was a really good feeling.”

Cockburn, last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is averaging 17.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He scored 13 of his 18 points and grabbed 10 of his 12 rebounds in the second half of the game as Illinois won its fourth in a row since a 91-88 loss at Rutgers on Dec. 20.

“The one thing I love about Kofi is I can really challenge him,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “I tell him my expectation for him is much higher than it is for himself. I’m never going to let him be satisfied with anything to be very honest. I’ll tell him when he does great things, but Kofi’s potential is untapped.”

Cockburn and guard Ayo Dosunmu lead Illinois, which is averaging 85.0 points per game and 41.9 rebounds per game. Dosunmu ranked ninth in the nation in scoring (22.3 points per game) as of Friday’s games as the Illini have shown balance with three additional players — Ande Curbelo, Adam Miller and Trent Frazier averaging 9.1 or more points per game.

The Terrapins (6-6, 1-5) have lost three in a row and have struggled mightily against strong post players including Iowa’s Luka Garza, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson – all of whom scored 22 or more points against them.

Maryland’s lone conference victory was a road upset at then-No. 6 Wisconsin on Dec. 28.

But the Terrapins are a .500 team through 12 games for the first time since the 2007-08 season and its conference record is its worst through six games since the 1992-93 campaign.

“I think as a team, we have to do better just coming together and just playing behind one another,” Eric Ayala said.

Ayala leads the Terrapins in scoring (14.0 points per game) along with Donta Scott (12.9 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) and Aaron Wiggins (11.9 points, 5.2 rebounds per game).

But neither Scott nor starting forward Jairus Hamilton are the dominant post players Maryland has had in recent years.

“There’s a lot really good bigs in this league, and of course this year, we don’t have one,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s not us. It’s not who we are.”

–Field Level Media

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