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).

Illinois Grand Canyon
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Final from the desert.

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Sorry for the lack of updates. Lots to write on deadline in the desert.

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Illinois 51, Grand Canyon 41 — 16:00 left in 2nd half

The Illini have managed to increase their lead in the first 4 minutes of the second half. Just think what it might be if they hadn't turned it over five times in the last 2:40. Meanwhile, it continues to be the Kofi Cockburn show. He's got 16 points.

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Illinois 41, Grand Canyon 37 — Halftime

Time for a bit of stream of consciousness recap of the first 20 minutes: 

— Kofi Cockburn is well on his way to another double-double, which would give him three in a row if you count the exhibition game. The 7-footer has 14 points and seven rebounds at the half.

— The other half of Illinois' prominent inside-out duo is senior guard Andres Feliz. He's got 12 points. Cockburn and Feliz are shooting 9 of 16 combined. The rest of the Illini are 6 of 20.

— Ayo Dosunmu is struggling offensively again, but he does have a team-high four assists. The rest of his offensive game is kind of all over the place. He's not finishing around the rim particularly well, and he's leaning in big time on his three-point shots again.

— Illinois is winning the rebounding battle 25-15 at the half. Da'Monte Williams and Giorgi Bezhanishvili have three apiece behind Cockburn's team high seven.

— Grand Canyon is staying in this game, though, thanks to 5 of 9 three-point shooting. Illinois is mostly contesting them, but has been just late enough on a couple close outs.

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Illinois 25, Grand Canyon 22 — 7:48 left in 1st half

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Illinois 21, Grand Canyon 13 — 11:45 left in 1st half

Kofi Cockburn is a load in the paint. Illinois continues to go to its big man for one simple reason. Grand Canyon doesn't have anybody that can guard him. The Antelopes' center, Alessandro Lever, is more of a stretch 5 than anything. And Lever is basically the only available big man since senior power forward Oscar Frayer was ruled ineligible until the second semester.

Cockburn has 10 points and four rebounds, and three of those rebounds have come on the offensive end. Illinois is winning the rebounding battle so far 13-6, and eight of those 13 have been offensive rebounds.

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Illinois 8, Grand Canyon 8 — 15:57 left in 1st half

The game plan is pretty clear for Illinois tonight. Get Kofi Cockburn the ball down low. The Illini went to their 7-foot freshman center on the first three possessions of the game — a failed alley oop turnover, 1-2 at the free throw line and a score on the block. Cockburn has six of Illinois' eight points so far, with Trent Frazier responsible for the other two. The junior guard knocked down a super-contested long two-pointer to beat the shot clock. Notable because it was his first made shot of the season after an 0-fer against Nicholls State.

Also, the Grand Canyon student section is legit. The most engaged group I think I've ever seen. Definitely have lived up to the hype.

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Stay tuned for more updates from the desert. They'll be coming for as long as I can manage before deadline becomes an issue.

For the moment, here are tonight's starters:

Illinois

G - Ayo Dosunmu

G - Trent Frazier

G - Andres Feliz

F - Giorgi Bezhanishvili

C - Kofi Cockburn

Grand Canyon

G - Jovan Blacksher Jr.

G - Isiah Brown

G - Lorenzo Jenkins

G - Carlos Johnson

C - Alessandro Lever

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Tipoff is in less than an hour here at GCU Arena in Phoenix. Here's a few observations from my time in the desert so far (at least those that pertain to the game):

— Tevian Jones did not travel with Illinois on the road trip, with the sophomore guard still suspended indefinitely for a violation of team academic policies.

— Austin Hutcherson and Jacob Grandison also didn't travel with the Illini. They simply can't. The junior wings are sitting out this season after transferring, and it's an NCAA rule that they can't travel with the team on road trips. Kind of silly rule.

The entire staff is in Arizona. That includes the coaching staff, Adam Fletcher, the team dietician and some academic advisors as well. It would make more sense for all the players to be with the team instead of on their own in Champaign.

— Illinois didn't get in a shootaround today at GCU Arena. The Antelopes had a women's game at noon.

— It's a legit tailgate happening right now outside. This place seats 7,000 (and a few more), and one entire section opposite the benches will be students.

— Spent some time talking with GCU TV analyst Scott Williams (former Chicago Bull). Grand Canyon's season-opening loss to Division II Davenport came with the Antelopes just thinking it would be a cakewalk. Davenport jumped on the 'Lopes early, hit 15 three-pointers and got the upset. 

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Illinois' two-fer Arizona road trip starts tonight at Grand Canyon. It's arguably the toughest two-game stretch on the Illini's nonconference schedule, and Brad Underwood's crew isn't exactly jumping in with loads of momentum. 

Sure, Illinois won its season opener against Nicholls State, but the Illini needed overtime to fend off the Colonels. Still, it was a win. Better than the alternative. 

That's what happened to Grand Canyon. The Antelopes lost their season opener. At home. To a Division II team. Not ideal.

The Illini can build some momentum with a win tonight in Phoenix. They'll need it for the back end of their road trip when they head to Tucson to play No. 21 Arizona. The Ayo Dosunmu-Nico Mannion showdown is the highlight of the weekend considering both guards are projected first round NBA draft picks.

But that comes later. First up is Grand Canyon, and even if the Antelopes are playing a short rotation with multiple players unavailable their home court advantage could be a tipping point. Tonight's game has been sold out for a seriously long time, and the 'Lopes are holding a "Purple Out.

Everyone talks about what the home crowd is like at GCU Arena. Illinois gets to experience it first hand.

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