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3-2-1 RECAP: Illini Bully Its Way To 71-62 Win Over No. 5 Michigan

For the first time since Feb. 7, 2013, Illinois defeats an opponent ranked in the Top 5 after a 71-62 win over Michigan.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- For the first time since 2013, Illinois basketball has knocked off a Top 5-ranked team.

Just a few days after suffering a gut-wrenching loss at then-No. 3 Maryland in the final seconds, Illinois rallied to hang on to a 71-62 over No. 5 Michigan Wednesday night. The same player who fumbled the ball and committed a foul leading the loss may have sealed the victory with a driving layup to put Illinois up 68-62 with just over a minute left.

Kofi Cockburn, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week just two days earlier and facing a preseason All-Big Ten selection in Jon Teske, ended the night with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes.

It is the first time in the Brad Underwood era of Illini basketball that Illinois (7-3, 1-1 in Big Ten Conference) has knocked off an opponent ranked in the top five. The last time was Feb 7, 2013, when Illinois needed a buzzer beater from Tyler Griffey to defeat then-No. 1 Indiana 74-72.

Michigan (8-2, 1-1) was led by Teske’s 16 points and seven rebounds.

Ayo Dosunmu, who said Tuesday that he was “all about just winning” finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and a team-high three asissts in his second-ever win against a Top-10 ranked opponent in the State Farm Center.

The Illini will next play at home against Old Dominion (3-7) Saturday at 5 p.m. on BTN.

Here are three major takeaways from this win for the Illini:

1) Illinois bigs bullied its way to a win

Against a Michigan team with seven-foot All-Big Ten forward Jon Teske and multiple bigs to run out at the Kofi-Giorgi combination, Illinois simply physically dominated nearly everything within two feet from the basket.

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Illinois had 15 offensive rebounds, won second-chance points 16-0 and outscored a Michigan team, who had created upsets of Top 10 teams and a Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament trophy from getting layups whenever they wanted, 44-26 in the paint.

Cockburn, who got his sixth double-double Wednesday night with 19 points and 10 rebounds, was instrumental in the Illini’s rim protection as he had four blocks and forced Michigan guard Zavier Simpson to a 4-of-14 night that resulted in just nine points in 36 minutes.

Giorgi Bezhanishvilli chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds while being a vocal force in the Illini's defensive rotations early in this game. 

Illinois Fighting Illini forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) and center Kofi Cockburn (21) celebrate after the second half against the Michigan Wolverines at State Farm Center.

Illinois Fighting Illini forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) and center Kofi Cockburn (21) celebrate after the second half against the Michigan Wolverines at State Farm Center.

2) Illinois just won a game where they shot 1 of 11 from 3-point range

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood called this “Big Ten basketball at its finest” where his team shoots 1 for 11 from beyond the 3-point arc and Michigan wasn’t much better at 3-for-18.

An easy argument could be made that the Illini guarded the perimeter, with the help of its bigs, and ball screen action better than it has all season long. On the other end, Illinois proved in its first two Big Ten Conference games (a 1-point loss at Maryland and this win vs. Michigan) that they don’t NEED to shoot it incredible to pick up big wins against high-quality NCAA Tournament teams.

Illinois got 44 points in the paint and got 14 points from the foul line. It was an ugly offensive game for the Illini as they had only eight assists on 28 field goals but 16 second-chance points were a disaster for an experienced Michigan squad.

3) The word is out on Michigan’s guard: Make them go left

Illinois didn’t necessarily break the mold but created a narrative on how to play Michigan from the defensive end. While they didn’t fully hedge on screens like John Groce’s teams did throughout his tenure, they did semi-switch at the arc with the big and force Michigan’s guards to do something they clearly didn’t want to do: go left.

Zavier Simpson had just nine points and two free throw attempts because Illinois didn’t allow him to go downhill with his dribble penetration throughout the second half. Franz Wagner and Eli Brooks were a combined 0-for-5 from the 3-point range because Underwood said they “wanted to create a 2-on-2 action where it forced a contested three off the dribble instead of an open look after a dribble action. Illinois didn’t do this well at Maryland and let Miami guard Chris Lykes do whatever he wanted off the dribble in its last action at State Farm Center. The Illini are improving its communication on defense and with its guards and if that continues, this is a scary team to face when league play resumes after New Year’s Day.