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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WHAT HAPPENED

It wasn’t always pretty — not with serious shooting woes and turnover struggles in the first half — but Illinois was able to get back on track Monday night with a home win against Hawaii. Mostly thanks to its big men.

WHAT IT MEANS

Illinois is going to be an overwhelming home favorite in two more games this week and another next week. Playing a little more like it will at least be an indication this is a legitimate NCAA tournament team come March.  

WHAT’S NEXT

Quick turnaround for the Illini, with just one day to prepare for Wednesday’s 8 p.m. game against The Citadel. Still more time than the Bulldogs get, though, since they play at Southeast Missouri on Tuesday night.

Player of the game

Illinois center Kofi Cockburn

Make that three double-doubles in four games for the Illini’s 7-foot freshman center. Cockburn had the rebounds early but needed to catch up offensively after a slow start. He did, finishing with 15 points and 14 rebounds to anchor Illinois in its 13-point victory.

Backcourt

Illinois B- | Hawaii C-

If the Illini can get all three of their top guards rolling in the same game, they could be a serious problem for opposing teams. It wasn’t Monday night, though. Trent Frazier was solid with 13 points, but seven turnovers combined between Ayo Dosunmu and Andres Feliz remains concerning.

Frontcourt

Illinois A- | Hawaii C

Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili combined for 25 points and 23 rebounds, with the latter coming up just a single rebound short of his own double-double. That duo was primarily responsible for Illinois’ 44-26 rebounding advantage. Cockburn added two blocked shots to his solid stat line, but also had five turnovers. Zigmars Raimo led Hawaii with 16 points on 7 of 12 shooing.

Bench

Illinois C | Hawaii D-

Illini coach Brad Underwood notably shortened his rotation against Hawaii, playing just seven players most of the game. That didn’t change the fact that, at least offensively, the Illinois reserves were still mostly a one-man show. Alan Griffin rebounded pretty well, but it was Kipper Nichols who did the scoring off the bench. The Rainbow Warriors, meanwhile, got next to nothing beyond their starters.

Overall

Illinois B- | Hawaii C-

Strong finish for the Illini in their win against the Rainbow Warriors, but the slow start — again — could have been more of an issue if Hawaii wasn’t struggling right along with them. The way Cockburn and Bezhanishvili teamed up to finish off the game, though, was a serious positive given that duo, at least when it comes to combined production, has gone through some early season growing pains.

Episode 75: If Adam Miller picks Illinois ...

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