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Cockburn scores 24 as No. 5 Illinois tops Nebraska 86-70

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Illinois

Feb 25, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) goes up for a shot against Nebraska Cornhuskers forward Derrick Walker (13) during the second half at the State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Kofi Cockburn scored 24 points, freshman Adam Miller added 18 and No. 5 Illinois beat Nebraska 86-70 on Thursday night.

Illinois (17-6, 13-4 Big Ten) was without national player of the year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, who broke his nose Tuesday against Michigan State. Dosunmu is expected to miss at least two more games and possibly more.

“I’m going to leave it to the doctors,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “There are some other issues, too. But I’m going to keep that private. When you are dealing with the head and facial area, it’s very sensitive. We are not going to jeopardize that young man’s career.”

Underwood declined to comment further on the issue. Dosunmu was on the bench in street clothes for Thursday’s game.

Without him, it was a couple of freshmen who stepped up on Senior Night that helped the Fighting Illini right the ship following their loss at Michigan State.

Freshman guard Andre Curbelo narrowly missed a triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Miller’s 18 points were his most since he scored 28 against North Carolina A&T in the Nov. 25 season opener.

Trey McGowens led Nebraska (5-17, 1-14) with 18 points. Kobe Webster and Shamiel Steveson added 12 each for the Cornhuskers.

Illinois was 30 for 62 from the field (48%) while Nebraska shot 27 for 61 (44%). The Illini outrebounded Nebraska 43-29.

“I thought Curbelo had an unbelievable game,” Cornhuskers coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He controlled (the game) and almost ends up with a triple-double.”

It was a physical game from the opening tip. Back-to-back technical fouls were called on both teams late in the first half, and there were several minor scuffles. Miller hit two 3-pointers and made several circus layups to pull Illinois ahead.

Miller had 16 points at halftime and Illinois led 36-28.


Hoiberg admitted his team had no answer for Illinois’ 7-foot center.

“They are the No. 5-ranked team in the country,” Hoiberg said. “Listen, Kofi’s an unbelievably tough matchup, especially when he’s knocking out free throws like he was tonight.”

Cockburn, who has struggled at the foul line along with most of his teammates lately, went 8 of 10 on free throws against Nebraska.

Underwood said Cockburn might take more abuse from other players than anyone in college basketball.

“Look, he’s 7 feet tall, weighs 300 pounds, can bench 450 and squat the house,” Underwood said. “He gets banged on more than anyone else. We saw a little frustration out there from him tonight, but that’s not who he is.”


Illinois needed this one, with three tough road games coming up and Dosunmu likely to sit out at least two of them. Terrific games from two freshmen in Curbelo and Miller helped pick up the slack against Nebraska.


Illinois might slip because of its loss to Michigan State this week, but this win should keep the Illini in the top 10.


Nebraska: Hosts Minnesota on Saturday.

Illinois: Begins a regular season-ending three-game road trip at No. 23 Wisconsin on Saturday.