Illinois Basketball: 4 keys for the Illini to beat Ohio State

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Illinois basketball

Jan 2, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) and guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) celebrate during the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at the State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois basketball team has a chance to knock off a sneaky good Ohio State team as they host the No. 21 Buckeyes on Saturday.

Illinois will go up against a tough Ohio State program, looking to bounce back from Sunday night’s disappointing home loss to Maryland.  Here are four keys for the Illini to walk out of the State Farm Center victorious against the Buckeyes.

1. Feed the big man

Good things usually happen when Kofi Cockburn gets the ball.  The Illini sophomore big man has been on an absolute tear ever since conference play began.

The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year is averaging 20.1 points per game in Big Ten play by shooting an exceptional 73-percent from the field.  Cockburn is also averaging 11.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per contest against Big Ten opponents.  The sophomore big man has recorded a double-double in all but one conference game so far this season.  His strength and size have proven to be just too overwhelming for opposing Big Ten big men.

On Saturday, Cockburn will be battling under the basket versus Buckeyes stretch forwards senior Kyle Young and sophomore EJ Liddell.  Liddell currently leads the Buckeyes in the rebounding category with 6.7 boards per game.  Young is right behind him with 6.5 rebounds per contest.

Cockburn will also be fighting for boards against Buckeyes freshman big man Zed Key.  Key, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound center, is averaging 6.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 14.2 minutes of play per game coming off the bench for the Buckeyes.

Cockburn has the size advantage over Ohio State’s tallest player by four inches.  Expect him to be double teamed but still productive in this one.

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