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Despite 2OT Loss to Purdue, Andre Curbelo's Return is Good News For Illinois

Curbelo's 20 points helped fuel an Illini comeback to force double overtime against Purdue.
Andre Curbelo Illinois Basketball

Photo: IlliniMBB/Twitter

Monday featured one of the most anticipated games in recent Illinois basketball history, and it lived up to the hype. No. 17 Illinois fell 96-88 to No. 4 Purdue in double overtime on MLK Day at the State Farm Center.

It was a battle between arguably the two top teams in the Big Ten. Purdue led by as many as 11, including at halftime. Illinois managed a second-half push, outscoring Purdue 43-32 to force overtime.

Alfonso Plummer led the Illini with 24 points on 8-of-19 shooting. He drained six shots from the perimeter in a bounce-back game after shooting just 1-of-5 from three-point range against Michigan. Trent Frazier added 16 points coming off a memorable performance against Michigan.

The Boilermakers' dominance inside the paint put Illinois down in the end, however. Big man Zach Edey led Purdue with 20 points, including 14 in the first half, to set the tone inside. Trevion Williams added 14 off the bench when Edey was resting. Purdue struggled from the perimeter in the first half. Still, Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic found their rhythm in the second half, combining for 42 points and ultimately being the difference for the Boilermakers, with the Illini failing to get much going inside.

The Kofi Cockburn vs. Edey matchup was one-sided in this one as the big man for Illinois got into foul trouble early in the second half. He finished with just 10 points and five rebounds. For his standards, it was more than underwhelming.

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Purdue beat Illinois 42-26 in the paint and finished with 32 free-throw attempts to Illinois' 15. Whether you agree with the referees or not, the Boilermakers took advantage of every opportunity given to them. Matt Painter had his guys focused and ready to play from start to finish in a hostile road environment.

Andrew Curbelo is Back

Despite the tough loss, Illinois can hold some solace in Andre Curbelo's return to the court after two months out with an injury.

He was more than ready to get back on the court, scoring 20 points in 26 minutes. The majority of his total came in the second half during Illinois' comeback.

What might have been most impressive was his turnover count. He finished with zero, something the dynamic guard had trouble with early in the season. He had 16 turnovers in 89 minutes entering today's contest.

His showing today should help Illini fans sleep tonight. His playmaking made everyone better on the offensive end, most notably Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk. The big man finished with four points and four rebounds but helped hold Edey to just six points in the second half. His defense played a big part in Illinois forcing overtime.

Illinois has tread water all season without Curbelo, including winning its first six games of conference play. Still, if you look at the big picture and consider the best teams in college basketball, the Illini will not have a chance to compete for a national championship without Curbelo.

What's On Tap Next?

The orange and blue's schedule doesn't get any easier. Illinois will travel to Maryland on Friday in a bounce-back affair. The Illini already defeated the Terps on Jan. 6 by 12 points. If the Illini rebound, perhaps they might earn themselves into the top 15 of the AP poll next week. Today's loss shouldn't hurt their spot in the survey.

Illinois will host Michigan State next week in another measuring stick game. While Illini fans can hold some optimism following today's performance, the truth remains that Illinois is now 0-2 in statement games, losing to Arizona and Purdue today. They will have another chance next week to not only take sole possession of the Big Ten with a win over Michigan State but improve on that record.