No. 14 Illinois aims to keep momentum vs. Texas-Rio Grande Valley

This is the Illinois basketball team coach Brad Underwood is used to watching.The one that slogged through losses to Marquette and Cincinnati, turning the ball over a combined 40 times and failing to take advantage of its physical ability inside, disappeared in Tuesday night’s 72-64 win over Kansas State in the third-place game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo.Kofi Cockburn was dealing inside for 23 points and 13 rebounds, while Alfonso Plummer canned seven 3-pointers off the bench and added 21 points. What’s more, the 14th-ranked Fighting Illini (3-2) got back to defending with purpose and competing on every trip down the floor.Underwood looks for that version of his squad to show up again Friday night in Champaign, where his team hosts Texas-Rio Grande Valley.”That locker room is filled with a bunch of guys who really want to be really good,” he said. “They want to really do the right things. They want to play the right way.”Beating Kansas State was a step in the right direction for many reasons. Even though the starting backcourt of Trent Frazier (leg) and Andre Curbelo (post-concussion symptoms) was limited at best, Illinois played a much more coherent game.The presence of Cockburn helped a lot. He displayed a more well-rounded game, showing a soft touch and range out to each elbow in the halfcourt, and even made a nice pass out of the double-team to an open Plummer for a key 3-pointer just past the midway point of the second half.And Plummer, the Utah transfer, displayed the kind of range that could make him an ideal foil to the dominant Cockburn.”The bench was energetic,” Plummer said. “The coaches were energetic. It kept us motivated to play hard every possession and helped us to win the game.”

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