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Watch now: Illinois expects and wants tougher test from IUP in second exhibition

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Kofi Cockburn

Illinois preseason All-American Kofi Cockburn is introduced before last week's exhibition game against St. Francis.

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood doesn’t expect another 67-point blowout in the Fighting Illini’s second exhibition.

In fact, he doesn’t want one.

“There won’t be much talent disparity tomorrow,” Underwood said of Friday’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania at State Farm Center. “That’s why they’re on the schedule. They’ve got real dudes, real size. I hope they come out and punch us, and I can’t wait to see how we react.”

The Illini hardly even had to show up last Saturday for a 101-34 demolition of NAIA program St. Francis. Underwood craves a tougher challenge and he expects to get it.

“This is a different animal. We’re excited for the opportunity against a really good team,” said the Illini coach, whose squad is ranked No. 11 nationally entering the season. “This team has had so much success in the past. They are one of the elite Division II teams in the country. They run great (offensive) action and are an elite offensive rebounding team.”

The Crimson Hawks, who did not play last season because of the pandemic, are ranked No. 18 nationally in Division II. IUP was 28-2 in 2019-20 and return several key players from that squad.

Armoni Foster is a 6-foot-4 junior guard who averaged 19.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in 2019-20. Other key players are 6-8 Ethan Porterfield, 6-3 senior Shawndale Jones and 6-1 junior Dave Morris.

Underwood indicated his team will run more set offenses than against St. Francis.

“We’ll treat this a little more like a game,” he said. “We’ll continue to work on rotations and see how that goes. (Regular season) Games are around the corner. Let’s get dialed in.”

Senior forward Jacob Grandison agrees Illinois needs to pick up its intensity with the Nov. 9 regular season opener against Jackson State approaching.

“These exhibition games are really important to get the rust off the chains a little bit,” said Grandison. “We take these games seriously. You have to approach them as a real game to practice your approach to a game.”

Crowned Big Ten Conference Preseason Player of the Year earlier this week, junior center Kofi Cockburn believes the Illini must continue to strive toward the level of toughness Underwood demands.

“Last year’s team had more of an edge because we knew we were a target. Every team wanted to kill us,” Cockburn said. “We don’t have that edge right now. I think we’ll get it soon.”

Cockburn said the Player of the Year honor “means a lot. I worked hard and it’s paying off right now. It’s a blessing. These guys are going to continue to push me whether I’m Big Ten Player of the Year or not. But it’s always good to get the accolade.”

Speculation is ramping up over whether Cockburn will be hit with a suspension by the NCAA for selling gear before the new Name, Image, Likeness rule allowing such activity went into effect.

“You want to know what’s going on,” admitted Cockburn. “But I’m not really worried about that right now. I’m worried about winning with this team. It’s a really talented team. I’m excited and ready to go.”

Underwood initiated discussion of the Cockburn matter at a media availability Thursday.

“We don’t know anything at this point,” Underwood said. “So there’s nothing to ask, nothing to talk about. We’re going through the due diligence of the processes of that.”

Fans attending on Friday are asked to be in their seats early for a 6:40 p.m. pregame ring ceremony recognizing last season’s Illini championship in the Big Ten Tournament. The team also will raise a championship banner to the State Farm rafters.

“It’s the last little bit of closure to last season,” said Underwood. “I’m excited about that. I look at is as a celebration for our fans as well. We’ll put last year behind us and start working on earning more.”

As of Thursday afternoon, less than 400 tickets remained for the IUP game.

Contact Randy Reinhardt at (309) 820-3403. Follow him on Twitter: pg_reinhardt


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