CHAMPAIGN — Deon Thomas had his hands up for every rebounding opportunity late in Wednesday night’s game.
Illinois’ all-time scoring leader turned radio analyst knew just how many rebounds Illini freshman Kofi Cockburn had.
Those raised arms ultimately turned into a round of applause with 3 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in what was quickly becoming an Illinois rout against The Citadel. That’s when Cockburn pulled down an offensive rebound and his 17th of the game that broke the freshman record of 16 previously shared by Thomas (1990) and Damir Krupalija (1999).
Before Cockburn got his name in the Illinois record book, he was about the only good thing going for the Illini early against the Bulldogs. Illinois got on track in the second half — a trend in the first few weeks of the season — and Cockburn finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds for his fourth double-double in five games that keyed an 85-57 Illini victory in front of 11,196 fans at State Farm Center.
“He was really happy for me and congratulated me and told me to keep working,” Cockburn said about his discussion with Thomas after the game. “Coach tells me every time before a game that should be the goal — that should be my mindset — going out there to get every rebound.
“It means a lot. It’s a great accomplishment. Obviously I want to rebound to help my guys. It’s something I have to do. I don’t really let it go to my head.”
That type of performance from Cockburn was what sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who had 16 points and nine rebounds of his own, expected. Actually, an 18 and 17 wasn’t enough in Bezhanishvili’s opinion.
“Next time I will tell him to go get 20 rebounds,” Bezhanishvili said. “I’m not satisfied with Kofi. He’s a great, great player, and I know he can do better.”