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Gordo ranks area hoops: Illini tests depth with early victories

Gordo ranks area hoops: Illini tests depth with early victories

No. 11 Illinois easily tops Arkansas State 92-53

Illinois' Andre Curbelo eyes a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas State Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Michael Allio)

With Kofi Cockburn serving the first two games of his three-game NCAA suspension, Illinois hammered Jackson State 71-47 and Arkansas State 92-53.

The Illini were also missing point guard Andre Curbelo (concussion) and shooting guard Trent Frazier (shoulder injury) in their season opener. So their depth got an early test against admittedly lesser competition.

Sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins stepped up in Cockburn’s absence to score 30 points, grab 20 rebounds and block five shots in those two games.

“One of the things I pay a lot of attention is fouls drawn,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said after the Arkansas State game. “He drew 10 fouls tonight. That’s a sign of tremendous effort and activity.”

Cockburn’s final game sitting out, Monday night at Marquette, will offer a bigger challenge. The Golden Eagles are 2-0 under new coach Shaka Smart, although neither victory (88-77 over SIU Edwardsville, 75-70 over New Hampshire) was overly impressive.

Missouri can use games against Kansas City and Northern Illinois to prepare for a tougher game against SMU in the Jacksonville Classic.

SLU also has to step up in class this week with Tuesday’s game at No. 12 Memphis. And SIU Carbondale will do the same when it faces Colorado to get rolling in the Paradise Jam.

Here is how the area’s Division I teams stack up:

ILLINOIS (2-0): Jacob Grandison also enjoyed a strong start (35 points, 11 rebounds) for the Illini in their two lopsided victories. And 6-foot-8 Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk came off the bench with (13 points and 20 rebounds in those games. After missing the opener, Frazier (12 points, four rebounds two steals) and Curbelo (eight points, seven assists) had solid games while getting their legs back against Arkansas State.

SLU (3-0): With top scorer Javonte Perkins sidelined for the season with a knee injury, the Billikens need others to emerge as go-to scorers. Gibson Jimerson averaged 18.7 points per game in lopsided victories over Central Arkansas, Harris Stowe and Eastern Illinois. Jimerson is the team’s best three-point threat, but he is also scoring off the dribble. Memphis transfer Jordan Nesbitt (13.3 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) is also off to a strong start. Postmen Marten Linssen and Francis Okoro are combining for 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.

MISSOURI (1-0): Transfers Boogie Coleman (14 points, five assists), Amari Davis (14 points) and Ronnie DeGray III (13 points, 12 rebounds) made an instant impact in the victory over Central Michigan. Key holdovers Javon Pickett (18 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals) and Kobe Brown (10 points, nine rebounds) also showed well against the Chippewas. Transfer DaJuan Gordon will make his debut against Kansas City after his one-game NCAA suspension and give fans a clearly picture of the playing rotation.

Mizzou basketball defeated Central Michigan 78-68 in their regular season home opener on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Colter Peterson photographed the Missouri Tigers win.

SEMO (1-1): The Redhawks 99-94 victory at Missouri State was the most impressive in Brad Korn’s tenure. Unfortunately, they followed that with a 97-79 loss at home to Youngstown State – which turned the ball over just seven times and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor in a highly efficient offensive performance. Eric Reed Jr. (19 points per game), Chris Harris (14 points, four assists per game) and Nygal Russell (12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds per game after off to strong starts.

MISSOURI STATE (1-1): The Bears bounced back from their startling home-court loss to SEMO by stepping on Alabama State 78-60. Isiaih Mosley went off for 31 points and five rebounds in the mismatch while backcourt mate Ja’Monta Black added 16 points. In two games dominant postman Gaige Prim as filled the stats sheet as expected with 39 points, 29 rebounds, six blocked shots and three steals.

SIU CARBONDALE (1-1): The Salukis turned the ball over 23 times during their disappointing 69-66 loss at Little Rock. They cut that total to 11 while running past Austin Peay 73-55 in their home opener. After turning the ball over eight times at Little Rock, lead guard Lance Jones bounced back with a 22-point, two-turnover game at Austin Peay. Forward Marcus Domask scored 28 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished seven assists in the two games while making a strong return from last season’s foot injury. Guard Trent Brown is nearing his return from a back injury, so the Salukis should be ready to build on that victory.

SIU EDWARDSVILLE (0-2): The good news for the Cougars: Local product Ray’Sean Taylor scored 40 points in his first two college games after missing last season with a knee injury. The bad news: Local product Cam Williams remains sidelined by a knee injury and the Cougars lost those games 88-77 at Marquette and 67-56 at Chicago State. Forward DeeJaun Pruitt missed the latter contest after his 10-point, six-rebound effort at Marquette.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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