CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — When the season started, Illinois fans were hoping to get an early glimpse of things to come from 7-foot freshman center Kofi Cockburn.
What they’ve seen so far has been more satisfying than anticipated. Cockburn scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Illinois beat Hawaii 66-53 on Monday night.
Cockburn, from Jamaica, recorded his third double-double in four games this season.
“I just came out there and did what they told me to do,” Cockburn said, smiling.
“He’s the real deal,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said.
Trent Frazier added 13 points and Giorgi Bezhanishvili 10 for Illinois (3-1).
Zigmars Raimo led Hawaii (3-2) with 16 points. Eddie Stansberry, the Rainbow Warriors leading scorer (20 points per game) was held to 10 points on 4-of -14 shooting, thanks to the smothering defense of Frazier.
“Stansberry is a terrific player and a terrific shooter,” Underwood said. “We contested him at every turn.”
Chris Gerlufsen, who’s serving as acting coach while head coach Eran Ganot is on temporary medical leave, was not available for comment after the game.
Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors play their next three games at home before traveling to Oregon Dec. 7.
Illinois: The Illini continued their trend of starting cold and playing catch-up in the second half, although having eight days off may have contributed to that on Monday. The Illini play seven of the next eight games at home.
Both teams were cold in the first five minutes, with Illinois going 0 for 7 to start the game. The score was tied at 26 at the half.
Illinois used a 14-2 run late in the game to take control. The Illini were 15 of 23 from the free throw line, while the Rainbow Warriors were only 2 of 3.
Overall, Illinois was 23 of 54 from the field for 43%, while Hawaii was 24 of 64 for 37.5%. The Illini turned the ball over 16 times to Hawaii’s nine.
“We looked like a team that hadn’t played in eight days,” Underwood said. “It obviously took us a while offensively to get into the game.”
Illinois held Hawaii to only 2 of 12 from 3-point range. “They are a very good 3-point shooting team,” Underwood said. “I was very pleased that we negated that with our defense tonight.”
CREDIT THE DEFENSE
Frazier, asked how the team handled its poor shooting in the first half, said the team does what it always does – plays harder on defense.
“I’m not sure we were actually struggling, but the ball wasn’t going in for us early,” Frazier said. “But our defense was good. And that’s where it starts for us. When the ball isn’t going in, we just double down on defense.”
THE BIG MEN
Cockburn and 6-9 sophomore forward Bezhanishvili complement each other perfectly on the court, which Cockburn credits to a burgeoning friendship off court.
“Me and Giorgi, what we have is special, off the court,” Cockburn said. “He’s got my back”
One example of having two big, physical men in the paint was apparent in the midst of the 14-2 Illinois run to close the game. Cockburn missed a layup in traffic, and Bezhanishvili was there to grab the rebound and tip the ball in.
Hawaii: Hosts New Orleans on Sunday.
Illinois: Hosts The Citadel on Wednesday in the second game of a five-game home stand.
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