Illinois’ late-game heroics snap 15-game losing streak to Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. — It’s something about six points.

Oct. 19, 2019. Illinois Football trails No. 6 Wisconsin at halftime by six points. The Illini pull off the improbable and shock the Badgers on Homecoming, 24-23.

Jan. 8, 2020. Illinois Men’s Basketball trails Wisconsin at halftime by six points. The Illini pull off the improbable and snap a 15-game losing streak — and 3,620 day winless streak at the Kohl Center — with a 71-70 victory on Wednesday night.

“We haven’t beaten Wisconsin in 3,293 days,” said freshman Kofi Cockburn, who was 11 the last time Illinois beat the Badgers, on Big Ten Network’s postgame coverage.

Head coach Brad Underwood put it a bit differently.

“I think Ayo [Dosunmu] was 10 [the last time Illinois won in Madison].”

With three fouls late in the second half, it was Alan Griffin who came alive off the bench with the Illini needing a spark. The sophomore guard made a pair of threes — and three of the Illini’s six on the night.

“I didn’t let [foul trouble] get to me,” Griffin said. “We’re on the road, most likely you’re not going to have it go your way. Everyone was just like, ‘Be composed. Stay locked in.’ Ayo and Giorgi [Bezhanishvili], they were like, ‘Knock it down. We already know you’re going to knock it down,’ which gave me confidence. I also had confidence in myself.”

And just like you saw so many times his freshman and sophomore seasons, Trent Frazier stepped up in the clutch, nailing a corner three with less than two minutes remaining to give the Illini their first lead since the first half. Seconds later, it looked like Ayo Dosunmu hit a dagger, but King responded with a three to cut Illinois’ lead to 71-70. Giorgi Bezhanishvili missed the front end of a one-and-one, chaos ensued, but it was the Illini who left victorious.

“We can’t get satisfied,” Dosunmu said. “It’s a great win. We’re going to enjoy it today, get back tomorrow, and then, we’re on to Rutgers.”

Similar to most games at the Kohl Center over the past 10 years, Illinois (11-5, 3-2) had a slow and sloppy start, highlighted by shooting 1-for-6 and foul trouble for Alan Griffin and Giorgi Bezhanishvili in the first few minutes.

“We dealt with some adversity tonight,” Underwood said. “Giorgi was a non-factor in the first half, as was Alan.”

With the Illini unable to find that punch — besides a few Griffin and Trent Frazier stepbacks and Kofi Cockburn at times having his way down low with the Badgers’ big men — Wisconsin (9-6, 2-3) hung around and finished the half on a 13-7 run and went into the locker rooms up by six.

The Illini and the Badgers continued to exchange blows out of the break. Both teams shot above 60% from the field the majority of the second half, but it was Kobe King who stood out. The sophomore exploded for eight quick points on 4-of-5 shooting to give his team a slight edge. The Badgers found themselves in the bonus with about 12 minutes remaining in the half, while Illinois didn’t reach that mark for another six minutes. They took advantage of the charity stripe, converting on 20-of-23 free throws on the night.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

The Final 0.1: Illinois was probably bailed out right before halftime when Feliz earned two free throws on a putback. Feliz split the shots, but stopped the bleeding in a 13-7 Wisconsin run to close out the first 20 minutes.

Kobe: Kobe King literally played like Kobe at times Wednesday. The Badgers guard entered the game averaging 10.2 points this season, but went for 21 points on 10-of-12 from the floor and had eight points before the half’s first media timeout.

Four #4: You tell us? Kofi was sent to the bench for a few minutes after this ‘foul.’ While Cockburn racked up four fouls, the freshman big also racked up 15 points and six rebounds.

“He’s a freshman, so he’s still learning,” Dosunmu said. “This is his first Big Ten roadkill, so in that moment, I was just trying to help him get through it. He’s a great player, but it’s just different with me having experience. I was telling him, ‘Get to this spot, and I’m going to throw it up there high for you. Go get it.’ He did that.”

It didn’t hurt Illinois. But having Kipper out there for an extended period of time that included shuffling a ball out of bounds and a foul 90 feet from the basket was not ideal.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Alan Griffin: Team-high +/- of 9, 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting (3-of-4 from three)
  • Giorgi Bezhanishvili: 8 points on 4-of-4 shooting, but one big missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one that gave the Badgers a chance to win the game
  • Trent Frazier: 6 points on 2-of-9 shooting (1-of-3 from three), but the poor shooting night wasn’t enough to stop him from making the go-ahead bucket
  • Four Fouls: Bezhanishvili, Cockburn, Griffin, Feliz (had three)

SOUND SMART

  • Wednesday was Illinois’ first 1-point win in Madison since 1984 (63-62 OT). Its other 1-point win came in a 34-33 barnburner in 1928.
  • Illinois is above .500 in Big Ten play for the first time since March 2015. “We deserve it. We’re competitive,” Frazier said. “Every night, we try to give it our all. It’s big to above .500 and be one of the top teams in the Big Ten. You’ve got to continue to grow and keep the streak going.”

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Oops, he did it again.

TWEET OF THE GAME

Double feature:

HE SAID IT

“It speaks to how successful Wisconsin has been and how great they’ve been. A lot of guys haven’t been a part of a lot of those games. It’s the best conference in the country, and to get a road win is what means the most to this group.” — Underwood, on ending the losing streak to Wisconsin on the road

UP NEXT

Illinois returns to the State Farm Center on Saturday against a surprisingly decent Rutgers (12-3, 3-1) team. Tipoff is scheduled for 11 a.m CT and will be televised on BTN.

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