The Illinois Fighting Illini started off cold, but heated up in the second half to beat Lewis University 83-50 in Friday, Nov. 1, exhibition game at the State Farm Center. The visiting Lewis Flyers jumped out to a 14-2 lead early but were ultimately overpowered.
After their lethargic start, Illini’s defense played exceptionally well for the rest of the game and held the Flyers to 36 percent shooting and forcing 22 turnovers. Defensive mainstays Trent Frazier and Andres Feliz did a good job of guarding the perimeter and forcing turnovers.
The Illini were paced by freshman center Kofi Cockburn, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in his collegiate debut. Logging 28 minutes of game time, Cockburn providing a huge physical presence inside and was one of five Illini to score in double figures.
“He’s a monster down there,” Frazier said “The guy is unbelievable. … He’s gotten three times better since he came here.”
Frazier also stressed giving the ball to Cockburn as a key to success.
This game also marked the Illinois debut for freshmen Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Jermaine Hamlin. The story of the game was Bosmans-Verdonk, who finished with 11 points shooting 3-for-3 on threes.
Coach Brad Underwood touted Bosmans-Verdonks defensive abilities after the game, calling them "sensational."
Lewis was led by junior center Anthony D’Avanzo, who chipped in 17 points and five rebounds in his 26 minutes of action
Free throws were an Achilles heel for the Illini last season and this game showed glimpses of that, with the team shooting 5-for-10 in the first half and 15-for-27 for 55 percent for the night. The Illini also turned the ball over 18 times and were called for several travels.
When asked about the slow start, Frazier pointed to the circumstances.
“Finally getting back out there, playing in front of a big crowd,” he said. “A new, different lineup, we had to figure each other out.”
This was the first game in a season where the Illini are largely expected to make the NCAA Tournament; something they haven’t done since 2013. The future looks bright in Champaign and with star point guard Ayo Dosunmu back for his sophomore season, an appearance at the Big Dance may be in the cards for this Illini squad.
Get ready for a lot of knock-down, drag-out physical basketball. The Illini are one of the grittiest and most defensive teams in the Big Ten and look ready to put the league on notice. They open up the regular season on Tuesday, Nov. 5, in Champaign against Nicholls State.