AP NEWS

Cockburn powers Illinois past North Carolina A&T 95-64

December 29, 2019 GMT

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Kofi Cockburn scored a career-high 26 points and Illinois beat North Carolina A&T 95-64 on Sunday.

The 7-foot freshman also grabbed nine rebounds, narrowly missing his seventh double-double in 13 games. Cockburn has more double-doubles this season than any other freshman in the country. He scored 23 points on two occasions earlier this season against Grand Canyon and Miami.

Ayo Dosunmu had 19 points and Alan Griffin added 18 for Illinois (9-4).

Tyler Maye and Devin Haygood scored 12 points each for North Carolina A&T (3-11). Ronald Jackson added 10 points for the Aggies.

North Carolina A&T took a 2-0 lead on the game’s first possession and never led again.

QUICK START

Illinois has had issues this year with slow starts, but led 50-34 at the half. The Illini put together a 6-0 run early in the game and a 14-2 run fueled by back-to-back 3-pointers from Trent Frazier in the closing minutes of the half. “That was fun to watch,” said Illinois coach Brad Underwood. “I was pleased. Sometimes as a coach I get apprehensive after the holiday break, but the guys came out and played well from the get-go.”

Illinois shot 53% (36 of 68) from the field, compared to 46% (24 of 52) for the Aggies.

North Carolina A&T turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 28 Illinois points. The Illini turned the ball over only nine times.

COACHING ISSUES

Aggies coach Jay Joyner was indefinitely suspended last week and assistant coach Will Jones helmed the team on Sunday. North Carolina A&T has declined to say why Joyner was suspended, calling it a “personnel matter.”

Jones declined to talk to reporters following the game.

HELPING HAND

Cockburn credited forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili for his scoring burst.

“Giorgi is the least selfish player I have ever played with,” said Cockburn, a native of Jamaica and one of Bezhanishvili’s best friends off the court. “He looked at me a lot today.”

Bezhanishvili had five assists, all of them to Cockburn for dunks or easy layups. The Illini had 22 assists for the game, a season high.

Bezhanishvili seemed content to play second fiddle to Cockburn. The 6-9 forward from the country of Georgia scored no points for the second consecutive game.

“I’m not worried about Giorgi,” Underwood said. “He’ll get his points and have some big games for us when Big Ten play begins.”

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina A&T: Outclassed by a bigger, more physical team. The Aggies played Illinois for the first time in their history. The last time they played a Big Ten team was last year, a loss to Minnesota.

Illinois: The Illini did what they needed to do in the final tune-up before conference play begins. The game provided an opportunity for coach Brad Underwood to get some valuable playing time for his reserves.

HE SAID IT

“I feel like we’re right there,” said Dosunmu. “We have the team and the talent to win (the Big Ten Conference), we just need to dial it in and stay focused..”

UP NEXT

North Carolina A&T: Hosts Mid-Atlantic Christian on Friday.

Illinois: Kicks off its Big Ten schedule on Thursday at No. 14 Michigan State.

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