Illinois, who is now 5-2 on the season but unranked after losing to Cincinnati and Marquette over the last couple weeks, played without four players in this match-up with the Irish.
Illinois' Andre Curbelo (undisclosed), Trent Frazier (leg), Jacob Grandison (illness), and Benjamin Verdonk (flu) are all "highly unlikely" to play tonight against Notre Dame, per Brad Underwood.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 29, 2021
The Illini were not discouraged by the missing guys, as Kofi Cockburn (28 points, 8 rebounds) and Alfonso Plummer (21 points) led the way as Illinois shot 53% from the field and 41% from long range. Jacob Grandison (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) also had a nice game.
For the Irish, Blake Wesley (24 points, 3 rebounds) was the key performer, with Nate Laszewski (13 points, 4 rebounds) and Dane Goodwin (15 points, 5 rebounds) chipping in as well. Paul Atkinson Jr. had a rough game going up against Cockburn, scoring just 3 points and grabbing only 5 rebounds, and Prentiss Hubb went scoreless while shooting 0-for-5 from the field.
The Irish shot 46% from the field and 36% from three-point range. They won the turnover battle 8 to 12, but were out-rebounded by Illinois 33 to 29.
The first half was close for much of it, before the Illini built out a low-double-digit lead with just a couple minutes to go before the intermission. However, a small run by the Irish fueled by Nate Laszewski and Blake Wesley pulled them back into it before Plummer drained a three just before the buzzer to give the Illini a 7-point advantage at the half.
In the second half, the Illini began to pull away, mostly behind the dominant play of Kofi Cockburn, who was pretty much unstoppable down low.
By the 10-minute mark, Illinois led 63-50, with not much super positive happening for the Irish besides true freshman Blake Wesley scoring 14 straight points, carrying the team in a hostile environment and showing great promise for the future.
ND was able to come within 5 points of the Illini a couple times within the final 6 minutes, but the Irish’s comeback efforts simply weren’t enough to overcome Cockburn and the Illini, as Illinois managed to pull away down the stretch and finish the game with a 10-point victory.
The Irish fall to 3-3 on the season and will attempt to get back above .500 on Friday night, when they travel to Chestnut Hill to kick off ACC play against the Boston College Eagles at 6:00 PM ET.