By Noah Ferguson
Kofi Cockburn had Maryland’s defense right where he wanted it.
After Coleman Hawkins’ three-point try clanged short off the front rim, the 7’0 center snatched the ball out of the sky with both hands. Sensing the smaller Qudus Wahab on his side, Kockburn shuffled once before rising for a powerful one-handed dunk, finishing with a roar before smiling on his trot back to the opposite side of the court.
It was the exclamation mark on a dominant day for Cockburn, who finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds in Illinois’ 76-64 defeat of Maryland men’s basketball, dropping the Terps to 0-3 in conference play.
Cockburn imposed his will on the visiting Terps in the outset of the first period, picking up five quick points to gash a stagnant Maryland defense. Opening up a double-digit advantage in efficient fashion, head coach Brad Underwood’s squad out-rebounded the Terps 17-4 in the first nine minutes of action to put Maryland on its heels.
In nearly identical fashion to the Terps’ previous loss against Iowa, interim head coach Danny Manning’s squad stumbled out of the gates in the opening moments of the first half. But just as Maryland was able to dig out of its early deficit against Iowa on Monday, Donta Scott and the Terps once again showed poise midway through the half to snap out of their early slump.
It all started when Cockburn picked up his second foul, sending the big man to the bench for the remainder of the first half. Cockburn’s absence lit a spark for Manning’s offense as Scott began carving up the Illini defense from the wing.
Two Scott three-pointers — sandwiched by a nifty off-balanced layup from Scott that brought the Maryland bench to its feet — helped dissolve Illinois’ sizable advantage to give the Terps a rare lead. Moments later, an emphatic putback slam followed by a two-point bucket capped off a 15-point first half for the junior forward.
As the first half buzzer sounded, Scott made the trot to the locker room with his team holding a four point advantage, 34-30.
Coming out of the break, both the Terps and Illini jostled for position as both squads looked to garner the first momentum swing of the second half. The two squads traded buckets early, with Scott and Cockburn picking up right where they left off to set the stage for a contentious second period.
Finally, Illinois took back the reins of the Big Ten battle.
After three quick layups helped the Illini regain a slim one-point edge, guard Trent Frazier found his rhythm from beyond the arc. First, it was a stepback triple that fell for the senior, sending Ian Martinez sprawling to the floor in the process. A Martinez turnover on Maryland’s ensuing possession led to another Frazier triple.
And while Hakim Hart converted on a three-point play of his own on the other end of the floor moments later, a third Frazier three-pointer sent the rowdy Illinois crowd into a frenzy with their team suddenly holding a seven-point lead.
The Terps fought valiantly to the end — Hakim Hart pitched in nine of his 11 points in the second half — but it wasn’t enough to slow Cockburn and the Illini at home late.
Cockburn finished the game with a slew of emphatic slams, guiding his team to a 76-64 victory to send Manning’s squad packing with its third straight conference defeat.