The bad news for No. 14 Illinois is that it received all it could handle from Texas Rio Grande Valley its last time out.
The good news is that the Fighting Illini boast one of the best players in America in center Kofi Cockburn.
The preseason All-American looks to build on his dominant effort against the Vaqueros on Monday when Illinois welcomes Notre Dame to Champaign for a matchup in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Cockburn scored a career-high 38 points against Texas Rio Grande Valley, making 15 of 19 shots from the field to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds. Through three games this season, Cockburn is averaging 26.3 points and 10.0 boards.
“I was going to roll with (Cockburn) because they couldn’t stop him,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said regarding the 7-footer from Jamaica.
Underwood actually had another terrific option Friday as Alfonso Plummer complemented Cockburn with 30 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. Plummer, who scored a total of 25 points in the first four games of the season, has 51 points on 13-of-20 shooting from beyond the arc in the last two affairs.
“Every time he shoots it, I have a smile on my face,” Cockburn said.
Friday’s game marked the first time since 1990 that Illinois had two players score 30 or more in the same game. It was a crisp overall performance by the Illini, who shot 62.3 percent from the field, 8 of 19 (42.1 percent) from the 3-point line and 20 of 24 (83.3 percent) from the foul line.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame went 1-2 at the Maui Invitational — held in Las Vegas this year — with losses to St. Mary’s and Texas A&M sandwiched around a victory over Chaminade. In Wednesday’s 73-67 loss to the Aggies, the Fighting Irish wasted a 10-point halftime lead and finished just 6 of 26 from 3-point range.
Notre Dame handled the A&M pressure with a reasonable total of six turnovers in the first half. But the team committed a dozen in the second half en route to failing to exceed 70 points for the fourth time in five games.
“The tick, tick, tick of pressure, pressure, pressure kind of broke us finally,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
The Irish are led by the trio of Dane Goodwin (15.0 points), Paul Atkinson Jr. (14.2) and Blake Wesley (10.8). Nate Laszewski also has been a factor so far with averages of 7.6 points and 10.4 rebounds. Every player in the Notre Dame rotation, aside from Atkinson, is a 3-point shooting threat.
Prentiss Hubb, a solid player for Notre Dame over the last several seasons, is shooting just 25 percent from the field and 4 of 26 from 3-point range. He is averaging just 7.2 points — down from 14.6 last season — and he is coming off an eight-turnover performance versus Texas A&M.
“We need Prentiss Hubb to be good for us,” Brey said. “I have to figure out a way to help him over the next couple days to get him ready for Monday.”
The Irish have won three straight in the series, including a 76-74 win in the last matchup, which took place as part of the ACC/Big Ten challenge in November 2018.
–Field Level Media