Illini Cruise Past Overmatched Nebraska In 71-59 Win

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- One day, likely very soon, Nebraska will have a go-to player and become a huge problem for Big Ten Conference opponents.
That day just wasn’t now as Illinois’ go-to outside-inside combination of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn proved to be too much as the Illini cruised to a 71-59 win over a downtrodden Nebraska team.

Dosunmu, who was named Big Ten Player of the Week earlier in the day for his previously heroic performance at Penn State, finished Monday night with a team-high 18 points and the 7-foot Cockburn bullied his way to 15 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.

With the win Illinois (18-9, 10-6) reached a double-digit total of Big Ten Conference wins for the first time since the 2009-10 season, which is two coaching staffs ago, for this rebuilding Illini program looking toward a postseason run in March.

"They say defense and rebounding can't make up for some shortcomings in other areas. That was certainly the case tonight," Illini third-year head coach Brad Underwood said. "We probably set an NCAA record tonight for missed layups." 

Despite converting on just 5 of 18 shots from beyond the three-point arc Monday night, Illinois managed to once again ride its Big Ten Conference-best defense to its first home victory in the month of February.

Dosunmu showed little to no negative effects to his left leg injury suffered the last time he stepped on the State Farm Center floor. In a 70-69 loss to Michigan State on Feb. 11, Dosunmu was seen immediately grabbing at his left knee following a slip and awkward fall. The Chicago native was excellent in transition and off the dribble as he finished 9 of 13 on two-point field goals despite dealing with some second-half foul trouble.

Against a Nebraska team without any appropriate low-post threat, Cockburn was able to get post touches to result in trips to the foul line as the Jamaican native was 5 of 7 from the charity stripe. Cockburn earned his 11th double-double of the season.

Nebraska (7-20, 2-14) was without starter Cam Mack as the sophomore was inactive with what team officials were calling an illness. The Cornhuskers, who have now lost 12 in a row and 17 in a row away from home, had 27 of its field goal attempts come from a combination of three-time transfer Haanif Cheatham and backup guard Dachon Burke Jr. and only converted 10 of those shots. The Cornhuskers had four players in double figures but Illinois’ defense was able to force 13 turnovers while also holding a smaller Nebraska squad to just 42 percent shooting from the field.

"I think they're a team built for the postseason with those guards," Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said. 

In just his second double-figure effort since Jan. 8, Alan Griffin provided 13 points and seven rebounds off the Illini’s bench despite the sophomore guard only hitting 1 of 5 from three-point range.

Illinois will next travel to Welsh-Ryan Arena Thursday to attempt a regular season sweep of Northwestern for a 7 p.m. tip on BTN.