Sturdy's 3 Takeaways: Notre Dame edition

By Brad Sturdy - IlliniGuys Insider/Analyst
November 30, 2021

The Ilini weren’t sure who was going to play, but no matter who ended up on the floor they knew they needed to bring it on Monday night if they were going to beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The "next man up" mentality worked, as Illinois won 82-72 behind a 28 point and 8 rebound night from Kofi Cockburn and a 21 point night from Alfonso Plummer as they moved to 5-2 on the season heading into Big Ten play on Friday.

The Illini also got some gutsy efforts from Trent Frazier, DaMonte Williams and Jacob Grandison as they battled through illness and injury to play big minutes in the win.

Notre Dame fell to 3-3 despite a big 24 point effort from freshman Blake Wesley.

These 3 Things

1. Defensive Issues - A win is a win is a win, but there are still some defensive issues with this team. Some of it is obviously the lack of cohesiveness due to missed practice time from injuries and illness, and you hope it gets better. But until that happens the Illini are going to need to keep scoring at a high clip if they want to keep winning. Kofi touches and 11 3’s will lead to some wins until they figure it out.

2. The Give and Take - Notre Dame actually went small in the hopes of spreading Illinois out and making Kofi guard on the perimeter.  Center Paul Atkinson Jr. came in as one of their leading scorers, playing 33 minutes per game, but logged just 20. They were hoping to get 3 for 2 and wear him down by making him guard out on the floor. It didn’t work, but this will be a pattern from teams that lack an interior presence and figure they can’t stop Kofi inside anyway. This is the sideline chess match.

3. Depth Shows Out - RJ Melendez, Luke Goode, Omar Payne, and Jacob Grandson all gave Illinois a nice spark. Melendez and Goode are freshmen finding their way and appear to be guys that are ready to play right now based upon their performances. Grandison played 18 minutes after missing a week and hit 3 triples before fatiguing a bit down the stretch. Payne had 3 or 4 really good defensive possessions that showed his value as a defender and rim protector. This is the depth Illinois was hoping to showcase this season and it now looks like it may be coming to fruition.

Notable

* Illinois improved to 10-13 all-time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Following last year’s 15-point win at No. 10 Duke, the Illini have now won consecutive Challenge games for the first time since claiming four in a row from 2009-12.

* Illinois started its sixth different lineup in seven games this season.

* Kofi Cockburn had 28 points, tying the Illini scoring record in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. He went 11-of-16 from the field and 6-of-9 from the foul line, and drew nine fouls on the evening.

* Cockburn equaled the Illini Challenge scoring record first set by Mike Davis, who had 28 points vs. Clemson on 12/2/08.

* Cockburn has now scored 20+ points in three straight games for the first time in his career. He previously had 23 points vs. Kansas State (Nov. 23) and a career-high 38 points vs. UTRGV (Nov. 26).

* Cockburn leads the nation in scoring this season, averaging 26.8 points.

* Alfonso Plummer had 21 points, and, like Cockburn, topped 20 points in his third-straight game. He previously had 21 vs. Kansas State (Nov. 23) and season-high 30 vs. UTRGV (Nov. 26).

* Plummer is now averaging 24.0 points over the last three games with 16 made 3-pointers (5.3 avg.).

* Trent Frazier returned from a knee injury to play 32 minutes, finishing with seven points and a season-high six assists.

* RJ Melendez earned his first career start with the Fighting Illini and hit two 3-pointers to equal his season high of six points.

* Illinois made 11 three-pointers on the night, including nine in the first half. The Illini are now shooting 43.1% from 3-point range over the last three games while making an average of 10.3 threes (31-72), compared to 23.9% the previous three games with an average of 5.6 makes (17-71).

* Illinois won its ninth straight game at State Farm Center.

(Cover photo courtesy Chicago Sun-Times)

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