CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Two weeks ago in Lincoln, Illinois wouldn’t have won without Ayo Dosunmu. On Thursday evening, Illinois proved they didn’t need him to easily dispatch the Big Ten Conference’s worst program.
On a night where Dosunmu was ruled out with a broken nose suffered two nights ago in a loss at Michigan State, No. 5 Illinois cruised to a 86-70 victory over Nebraska thanks to a hot first half from freshman Adam Miller and a dominant second half from junior center Kofi Cockburn.
“We had our guy down and that’s basically what it was,” Illinois senior guard Trent Frazier said. “We didn’t get carried away with it. We have plenty of guys to take care of business.”
In a foul-plagued and turnover-dominated first half, Miller had 16 of his conference-high 18 points in the first 20 minutes of action. Miller, who was 7 of 11 from the field before the first half buzzer, scored the second most points in his college career and most since a 28-point season-opening performance against North Carolina A&T on Nov. 25.
“I expect Adam to play good every single day,” Illinois freshman guard Andre Curbelo said. “I think it was a good test for us tonight without (Ayo). Every time before the game, I tell (Miller) ‘hey, have a night kid’ and just because I believe in him. He’s not the kind of kid that needs a lot of motivation.”
Cockburn, who was 8 of 10 from the foul line Thursday night after missing 8 of 11 two nights earlier in the 81-72 loss at Michigan State, finished with a team-high 24 points against a Nebraska defense determined to foul and punish the 7-foot, 290-pounder early.
In the midst of the Miller and Cockburn show, Curbelo nearly accomplished the triple-double feat Dosunmu has been known for this season. Curbelo finished just two assists short of a triple-double as the Puerto Rico native had 10 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in 31 minutes of action.
“That’s how I play. I try to lift everybody up (and) get people shots,” Curbelo said. “I’m just really glad we sent our seniors the way they deserve.”
On a night where No. 5 Illinois (17-6, 13-4 in Big Ten) connected on 4 of 23 from three-point range, the Illini still managed to record 16 fast break points and 16 dunks or layups and 46 points in the paint.
In what was the regular season finale at State Farm Center, Illinois administration honored seniors including Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Zach Griffith and also Dosunmu, who has said he’ll be declaring for the NBA draft after the 2020-21 season is over.
“Knowing those guys won’t be out here again is pretty emotional because they’re the foundation of what we’ve built over these years,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s a great example for the two young guys who played incredible in Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo.”
Williams had eight points and Frazier finished with seven in what will likely be their last game in Champaign. Williams, a Peoria native who committed to former head coach John Groce, also had seven rebounds and four steals in 24 minutes.
Nebraska (5-17, 1-14), which has just one Division I victory since the calendar flipped to 2021, hit just 5 of 21 from three-point range after the Huskers had made 37.8 percent over the last six games from beyond the arc since returning from its COVID-19 pause in mid-February.
Illinois will now finish the regular season with road games at No. 23 Wisconsin (1 p.m., Saturday), at No. 3 Michigan (March 2, 6 p.m.) and at No. 4 Ohio State (March 6).
Underwood expressed his displeasure for the updated league schedule that has his program finishing with five of its last six games on the road.
"I didn't sleep a wink after the Michigan State game and I probably won't sleep a wink after tonight knowing we've got a game in 30 hours against a team that's been off for a week," Underwood said. "I am a tough son of a bitch and if anyone wants to doubt that they can ask my wife."