Armaan Franklin only needed one word to describe why Indiana was just 16-of-40 (40 percent) from two-point range on Saturday afternoon in Illinois.
“Kofi,” Franklin said when asked about his team’s struggles from close range, referring to Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn.
The 7-foot, 285 pound Cockburn didn’t come anywhere near the six blocks he had in March in the same building against Indiana, but he was every bit as impactful.
Behind a strong defensive effort, IU was able to keep the game close despite an off day from its best player.
Indiana leading scorer Trayce Jackson-Davis was just 3-of-13 from the field.
The reason why? Everywhere he went, he ran into Cockburn.
“He’s a big inside presence. He alters a lot of shots,” Franklin continued.
With Cockburn anchoring the paint, Illinois was able to run Indiana’s shooters off the three-point line and draw dribble drives towards the Illini big man.
That is exactly what the Illinois defense is designed to do, and it worked all afternoon at the State Farm Center.
“They (Illinois) are very difficult to play against with their scheme with Kofi in the paint,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said after the game. “Two point shots are what you’re going to get a lot of the time. Two-point jump-shots, or him (Cockburn) in between the rim and your body, which is a big reason why Trayce was 3-for-13. Those finishes aren’t easy.”
After six straight games of least 14 turnovers, Indiana took care of the ball against Illinois.
“The eight turnovers in the game (by IU) was the biggest positive. That’s how we have to play,” Miller said. “If we have 10 or less turnovers we’ll have a chance in every game.”
The improved ball security gave IU more chances to score on the offensive end.
But more possessions just led to more shot attempts against the immovable object.
“It was all us. We had control of the shots. If we make a few of those easy shots that we got, it’s a different ball game,” senior guard Al Durham said after the game.
Durham was just 3-of-7 on two-point attempts. Jerome Hunter was just one of 1-of-5 from the field, all from two-point range.
But Jackson-Davis was the headliner when it came to IU’s struggles at the basket.
He came into the game shooting 56.3 percent from the field.
Jackson-Davis’ 11 points were well off his 21.1 points per game scoring average coming into the contest.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore was no doubt bothered by Cockburn, as he looked to finish with sweeping scoops and extension rather than the more authoritative, downhill, physical style he is known for.
Jackson-Davis will see other big bodies in the league, and adjustments will be needed.
But Miller knows his star forward was up against something unique on Saturday.
“Trayce isn’t going to go 3-for-13 every game,” Miller said.
And that is mainly because Trayce isn’t going to see a 7-foot, 285 pound wall very often.
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