Brad Sturdy, IlliniGuy
February 20, 2022
Roadkill in East Lansing
The Illini didn’t have to go to the Pizza Hut parking lot to get the win on Saturday, but it was a typical physical Big Ten road game at the Breslin Center. The Illini led by as many as 16 points in the second half and held on for a 79-74 win over the Spartans. Kofi Cockburn had 27, Jacob Grandison had 24 and Trent Frazier scored 12 second half points, including a pair of huge plays down the stretch, to offset a huge 26-point day from State guard Tyson Walker.
Here’s a look at what we saw.
These 3 Things
- A Tale of Two Halves - It was the best of halves. It was the worst of halves. At least defensively. Illinois dominated Michigan State in the first half, holding the Spartans to 22 points and taking a 12-point lead into the break. The Illini were active, physical and made the Spartans look bad. But in the second half, Michigan State did a better job attacking the basket and Walker went nuts, making tough 2 after tough 2 en route to a 52-point second half for the Spartans. This game, the Illini kept scoring themselves, behind a 19-point second half from Kofi Cockburn and some big shots from Trent Frazier (12 second half points) down the stretch to get the win. The Illini love to hang their hat on defense, but sometimes you just have to keep scoring because the other team is on a heater.
- Rock Fight, Parking Lot Fight - Although the teams didn’t meet in the Pizza Hut parking lot, the Illini were the tougher team on Saturday. Illinois grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to win the second chance points battle 19 to 8 and dominated in the paint by a 32-16 margin. Michigan State played a great second half, but the Illini never faltered on the road in a difficult environment. This is another example of the toughness Underwood has imprinted on the program. When there is a poor road performance, which is something every team has, it comes as such a surprise because they have been so good on the road.
- Stay to Play or Play to Stay - For those that have played in travel baseball, basketball, volleyball, softball, etc. tournaments recently, you know that they are all ‘stay to play’. Illinois has now implemented a new policy, it is play to stay. Underwood challenged Grandison, Williams and Plummer to play with more energy and efficiency on Saturday if they want to keep their spots. With RJ Melendez and Coleman Hawkins breathing down their necks, they needed to figure it out and they did on Saturday, led by 24 points from Grandison. The key was that they got valuable minutes from 10 guys and you can tell that Underwood now feels like he can play Curbelo, Hawkins, and Melendez big minutes if needed. In talking to Underwood, he also feels that way about Payne, if he can stop fouling at an alarming rate. That’s quality depth, and you better play if you want to stay.
- At the beginning of the second half every team begins to attack Plummer in ball screen situations. Over and over, they go at him, and the results have been poor for the Illinois defense. It seems as if the Illini need to change the way they defend ball screens if he is going to play big minutes. He also needs to start making shots, as he is 0-7 from deep the past two games. However, he does open up the floor, because teams aren’t leaving him.
- It seemed like Illinois needed to put Frazier on Walker late in the game yesterday, but the season high for Walker was 15. Walker came in known for scoring, including 36 in a game last season at Northeastern. They finally did on the last possession, and the Illini got a turnover.
- With the win, Illinois improves to 12-4 in Big Ten play, moving into a tie for first with Purdue.
- Illinois has now won at least 12 Big Ten games in three straight years for just the third time in school history, joining the 1951-53 and 1987-89 stretches.
- 2020: 13 B1G wins
- 2021: 16 B1G wins
- 2022: 12 B1G wins
- Illinois swept the home-and-home series sweep against Michigan State, the Illini’s first victories over the Spartans in both Champaign and East Lansing in the same season since 2005-06.
- Illinois beat Michigan State in East Lansing for the first time since 2015.
- The win over No. 19 Michigan State improved the Illini to 3-3 versus ranked opponents this season.
- Illinois finished a five-game stretch that included four road games with a 3-2 record, including a 2-2 mark in road games.
- Illinois has now won 10 of its last 14 games against top 25 teams.
- Illinois has now won nine of its last 12 Big Ten road games, and 14 of its last 18.
- Illinois has totaled 19 road wins in Big Ten play over the last three years, four more than the next closest team (Wisconsin, 15). Illinois is 19-10 during this stretch (.655), one of only three teams above .500 in B1G road games.
- Illinois is the Big Ten’s winningest team over the last three seasons, with a 44-15 (.746) record vs. league foes.
- Illinois is 26-5 (.839) in its last 31 games versus Big Ten opponents.
- Leading the way for Illinois was National Player of the Year candidate Kofi Cockburn, who had a game-high 27 points on 10-15 FG & 7-9 FT and nine rebounds.Cockburn is the first player to go for 27+/9+ at Breslin Center since 2010, when Eastern Michigan’s Brandon Bowdry had 32 points and 15 rebounds.
- Cockburn the only player in the country averaging at least 21 points and 10 rebounds this season.
- Jacob Grandison set his career scoring high as an Illini with 24 points (previous high, 21 points at Iowa 12/6/21).
- Grandison set a career high with six 3-pointers.Grandison’s six treys were one away from the most ever by an Illini against Michigan State. Dee Brown hit seven against the Spartans 1/5/2006 in Champaign.
- Grandison also tied the record for threes by a Big Ten opponent at the Breslin Center.
- Trent Frazier’s dagger 3-pointer with 23 seconds left to put the Illini up by five gave him 12 second-half points.