CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Ayo Dosunmu scored 18 points and Kofi Cockburn added 11 and grabbed 17 rebounds and Illinois held off Rutgers 54-51 at home on Saturday.
The win propels Illinois into second place in the Big Ten Conference and ties its season win total from a year ago, when the Illini went 12-21 and 7-13 in the conference.
Dosunmu stepped up big in the final two minutes for Illinois (12-5, 4-2). He scored four points (all at the free-throw line) to seal a defensive battle that saw Rutgers (12-4, 3-2) grab the lead early in the game.
“Coach has that trust in me down the stretch,” Dosunmu said after the game. “I like to seize the moment.”
Jacob Young led Rutgers with 16 points. Ron Harper Jr. added nine for the Scarlet Knights.
Illinois went on two 6-0 runs in the second half to close the gap against a fierce Rutgers defense. Both teams played exceedingly well defensively.
Rutgers was 20 of 59 (34%) from the field to Illinois’ 18 of 63 (29%).
Cockburn, a 7-foot freshman, hit his seventh double-double of the season for the Illini,
Both teams shot poorly in the first half. Rutgers was 9 of 27 from the field (33%) while Illinois shot a paltry 6 of 31 (19%). Rutgers led 21-18 at the break. Cockburn had five points and 10 rebounds in the first half.
“We shot 19 percent in the first half and found a way to win it against a good Rutgers team,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “I’m proud of our guys today. This shows the growth we’ve been seeing all year.”
BATTLE OF THE BOARDS
Rutgers has a reputation this season of owning the boards, particularly on the offensive end. But Illinois used its big men, Cockburn and 6-foot-9 forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili, to out-rebound the Scarlet Knights 48-42 overall and 16-10 on the offensive end.
“We work hard on our rebounding during every practice,” Underwood said, “It paid off for us today. Kofi in particular stepped up for us.”
Rutgers is playing without veteran point guard Geo Baker, out indefinitely with a left thumb injury. Baker is the team’s second-highest scorer, averaging 11.5 points per game.
He also leads the team in assists and is the undisputed leader on the court. Baker could miss up to a month because of the injury, sustained in practice last week.
Rutgers played the brand of defense it’s known for this season, but couldn’t contain Dosunmu down the stretch,
Illinois, on the heels on a huge road win against Wisconsin on Wednesday, stepped up again against a tough conference foe. The Illini slipped into second place in the Big Ten, trailing only No 8 Michigan State, which sits at 13-3 and 5-0 in conference play. The Spartans play Purdue on the road Sunday.
Rutgers: Travels to Indiana on Wednesday, not an easy assignment since the Hoosiers are 10-1 at home this season.
Illinois: Hosts Northwestern next Saturday.
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