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Lineups

Illinois (5-2)

Starters

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Trent Frazier Sr. 6-2 8.4 Wellington, Fla.

G Alfonso Plummer Gr. 6-1 13.9 Fajardo, Puerto Rico

G Da’Monte Williams Sr. 6-3 3.7 Peoria

F Coleman Hawkins So. 6-10 9.7 Sacramento, Calif.

C Kofi Cockburn Jr. 7-0 26.8 Kingston, Jamaica

FYI: Plummer has averaged 24 points during his last three games while shooting 16 of 31 (51.6 percent) from three-point range. It’s just the second time in his Division I career that he’s scored 20-plus points in three consecutive games. The first happened during his final three games of the 2019-20 season at Utah where he scored 23, 21 and 35 points. The final game doubled as his single-game career high for made three-pointers after he went 11 of 16 against Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament.

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G/F Jacob Grandison Gr. 6-6 10.5 Oakland, Calif.

G Luke Goode Fr. 6-7 3.6 Fort Wayne, Ind.

G RJ Melendez Fr. 6-7 4.2 Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Rutgers (4-3)

Starters

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G/F Ron Harper Jr. Sr. 6-6 16.1 Franklin Lakes, N.J.

G Paul Mulcahy Jr. 6-6 7.3 Bayonne, N.J.

G Caleb McConnell Sr. 6-7 5.1 Jacksonville, Fla.

G/F Jaden Jones Fr. 6-8 5.7 Dallas

C Clifford Omoruyi So. 6-11 12.0 Benin City, Nigeria

FYI: Veteran guard Geo Baker has missed Rutgers’ last two games after suffering a hamstring injury during the Scarlet Knights’ 53-51 home loss to Lafayette on Nov. 22. Baker was averaging 11.2 points and four assists when he was injured. He’s in his fifth season and has averaged 11.1 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds for his career.

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

F Aundre Hyatt So. 6-6 7.1 The Bronx, N.Y.

F Ralph Gonzales-Agee Gr. 6-8 3.5 Victorville, Calif.

F Mawot Mag So. 6-7 2.8 Melbourne, Australia

Details

➜ Site: State Farm Center (15,544); Champaign.

➜ Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Deon Thomas (analysis) will have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDWS 93.9-FM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDAN-1490-AM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.

➜ TV: Mike Couzens (play-by-play) and Robbie Hummel (analysis) will have the call on ESPN2.

➜ Series: Illinois leads series 9-3.

➜ Last meeting: Illinois won 90-68 on March 12 in Indianapolis in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

➜ FYI: The only game in the series between Illinois and Rutgers before the latter joined the Big Ten came in the 2005-06 season in the championship game of the South Padre Island Invitational. Illinois posted a 77-57 win against the Quincy Douby-led Scarlet Knights, with James Augustine (18 points), Brian Randle (16), Rich McBride (11) and Dee Brown (10) all finishing in double figures.

Beat writer Scott Richey’s storylines

No clear update on Curbelo yet

Andre Curbelo has missed Illinois’ last two home games and most of the second half of a third game as he tried multiple times to go back in during the second half against Kansas State on Nov. 23 in Kansas City, Mo., but couldn’t sustain a run. What’s ailing the sophomore point guard is a bit of a mystery. Illinois coach Brad Underwood first said “head trauma” immediately after the win against Kansas State, but walked that back last week. The only aspect that’s maybe clear at this point is Curbelo’s status hasn’t changed heading into Friday’s Big Ten opener against Rutgers. “It is a process, and he’s out,” Underwood said. The Illini coach said Curbelo has been in “great spirits and been a great teammate” while he’s been unable to play. Curbelo also has the support of his teammates. “Let him take his time and do his thing,” Illinois wing Jacob Grandison said. “He has our back, and he knows we have his back. We want our guy to be himself. Once he gets there, we’ll be ready to have him.”

Plummer continues lighting it up

Alfonso Plummer’s three-game run against Kansas State, UT Rio Grande Valley and Notre Dame has the veteran lefty guard shooting a career-high 42.9 percent from three-point range. Plummer said he was “back” following his 7-of-9 three-point shooting performance against Kansas State and maintained that against UTRGV and Notre Dame. “I was waiting for this,” Plummer said. “I’ve been working on my game since day one. I’m going to keep doing the same thing and just find a way to help the team get better. I feel like it’s more about confidence. The first two or three games I was kind of off. I feel like I wasn’t the player I was at Utah or before that. I feel like my rhythm got back, and I feel like I’m that player again.”

Harper presents a serious challenge

Rutgers has been playing senior wing Ron Harper Jr. at point guard with veteran guard Geo Baker unavailable following his hamstring injury late last month. Putting the ball in Harper’s hands, though, isn’t a step back. The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder dropped a season-high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including a 4-of-6 mark from three-point range, to go with nine rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal during Tuesday night’s win over Clemson. “He’s a guy that loves the physicality of the game,” Underwood said. “He bowls over younger and lighter guys. He’s a difficult matchup because of that size and girth.”

The N-G’s pick

Illinois 79, Rutgers 70

Even without Andre Curbelo (maybe? probably?) Illinois will be at about as full strength as its been all season. Considering that includes the most physically dominant center in the country in Kofi Cockburn and a potentially lights-out shooter in Alfonso Plummer, that’s a good place for the Illini to start. The Cockburn-led talent meter tips the Illini’s direction, and that could be enough again for a third straight win against a high-major opponent. (N-G prediction record — 5-2)

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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