INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kofi Cockburn muscled his way to 18 points and Illinois cruised past 16th-seeded Drexel 78-49 Friday in the Illini’s first NCAA Tournament game as a No. 1 seed in 16 years.
Illinois (23-6) will face eighth-seeded Loyola Chicago or ninth-seeded Georgia Tech in the second round of the Midwest Regional on Sunday.
Maybe that will be more of a test for the Big Ten champions. Drexel (12-8) never really had chance at containing the 7-foot, 285-pound Cockburn, who was 8 for 11 from the field.
James Butler — 6-8 and 242 pounds — drew the daunting task of trying to handle Cockburn, without much success. The senior did have 10 points and 10 rebounds for Drexel.
The Dragons closed the season with four straight victories, including three during a surprising run through the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, to earn a bid to the NCAAs for the first time since 1996. They managed to stay competitive for about seven minutes, taking an 8-7 lead.
Indiana Farmers Coliseum, home of IUPUI of the Horizon League and a minor league hockey team, hosted the Midwest Region games Friday. The 82-year-old building that hosted the Beatles’ only concert in Indiana normally holds about 6,800 for basketball, but capacity was capped at 1,200 for its first NCAA games because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Illini fans, excited to see the first No. 1-seeded Illinois team since the program’s last Final Four run in 2005, seemed to get their hands on most of the tickets, dotting the stands with blue and orange.
It took their team a few minutes to find a groove. All-American Dosunmu didn’t score his first points until he swooped in for a layup with 6:19 left in the first half.
Still sporting a black Batman mask to protect the broken nose he suffered last month, Dosunmu finished with 17 points.
Cockburn got loose for 10 straight Illinois points, capping his personal run with a slam off a flip from Dosunmu. The Illini closed the half on a 32-13 run. The lead got to 20 points after a minute in the second half and never dipped below that the rest of the way.
Drexel: The Dragons had to finish with a flourish to shoot 31% for the game after being held to 22% in the first half. There just weren’t many good looks against the longer and quicker Illini.
Illinois: Maybe the best news for the Illini: Nobody had to play more than 32 minutes.
The Illini are 12-3 all-time against in-state rival Loyola, last playing the Ramblers in 2011. They are 7-2 against Georgia Tech, with the last meeting in the 2013-14 season.