Illinois did more than just cover the spread Wednesday night in St. Louis. The Illini covered 14.5 points and demolished Mizzou from start to finish in the 41st Braggin' Rights game, winning 88-63.
Illinois defeated Mizzou for the first time since 2017. It was more than just a win to Illini fans who have watched Brad Underwood build the program to where it's at today.
Kofi Cockburn set the tone of the game and led the Illini with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Alfonso Plummer finished with 22 points, his eighth straight game in double figures.
Trent Frazier added 15 points en route to his second Braggin' Rights victory.
WHY IT MATTERS
The win was Illinois' best non-conference win of the season. The Illini have not played at full strength all season, outside of one game against Cincinnati that resulted in a bad 20-point loss. However, that was Cockburn's first game back after his suspension.
CBS Sports college basketball reporter Jon Rothstein had some interesting thoughts on Illinois this morning as well, naming the Illini the second-best team in the Big Ten behind Purdue.
"One could make the same argument about Ohio State — who has played every game this season without both Justice Sueing and Seth Towns — but the ceiling in Champaign feels higher. Through 12 games, Illinois is 9-3 and has yet to be whole. Kofi Cockburn missed the first three games of the year due to an NCAA issue and Andre Curbelo hasn’t played since late November due to a concussion. Both players were preseason All-Americans. Illinois’ first loss of the year at Marquette came without Cockburn, its second loss of the year came in Cockburn’s first game back, and its third loss came at home against Arizona without Curbelo. If Brad Underwood can get Curbelo back to pair with an already proven perimeter of Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Jacob Grandison, and Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer, he’ll have the conference’s top challenger to Purdue."
Whether you like him or not, you love to see Illinois getting some national attention. He's also right. We have yet to see this team at full strength, but it's only a matter of time until Andre Curbelo returns to the court. Underwood would love to get him back to start the new year when Illinois travels to Minnesota on Jan. 2.
Nonetheless, Illinois has one more non-conference game at home against Florida A&M after Christmas break. It will be another tune-up for a tough schedule ahead. Perhaps Curbelo will be ready by then?
We'll see at 8 PM on Dec. 29.