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INDIANAPOLIS — Illinois fans chanted "MVP!" as Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu did a postgame interview in Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.
The junior guard was runner-up to Iowa center Luka Garza in the Big Ten Player of the Year voting, which doesn't sit well with the Illini crowd that feels Dosunmu is as wonderful as any college player in the nation. His 18-point, nine-assist performance Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium supported that.
But consider Illinois center Kofi Cockburn. The 7-foot Jamaican sophomore, a first-team All-Big Ten player like Garza and Dosunmu, was the most-forceful force of the many on both sides in his team's 82-71 win over Iowa in the Big Ten men's basketball tournament semifinals.
Cockburn had several of Illinois' 10 dunks. He frequently got the offensive and defensive position he wanted in the blocks. His 26 points came significantly easier (11-of-17 shooting and extremely high-percentage shots) than Garza's 21 on 8-of-21 from the field.
'Obviously, he's a tremendous big man,' Garza said about Cockburn.
'I've got to do a better job at both ends, dealing with that physicality. I kind of got my rhythm in the second half and then obviously, I didn't end so well.'
'He's a great player,' Cockburn said when asked about Garza. 'I respect the hell out of him. It's about competing.'
So, the No. 3 Illini (22-6) take on No. 9 Ohio State in the Big Ten's title game Sunday, while the No. 5 Hawkeyes (21-8) wait until late Sunday afternoon to find out which scrappy, obscure low-seed will be their first-round NCAA tournament opponent later in the week.
The closest the Hawkeyes got in the second half was five points, when Bohannon made a pair of 3-pointers in an 8-0 run to knock the Illini's lead down to 74-69 with 3:40 left. Dosunmu missed a 3-pointer, and the Hawkeyes had a chance to draw closer, but Illinois freshman guard Andre Curbelo stripped Bohannon of the ball and fed Dosunmu for a dunk.
Losing leaves its mark, but the 21-8 Hawkeyes got two encouraging things here for the week or weeks ahead. Forward Joe Wieskamp returned after a sprained ankle last Sunday and wasn't hobbled. He played 37 minutes Saturday. And, guard CJ Fredrick played two games within 24 hours despite battling lower leg issues the last month.
'I wasn't even sure I was going to play Joe Wieskamp or CJ,' Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. 'Not because I didn't want to win the Big Ten tournament. It was because I wanted to do what was right for them.
'They both wanted to play, they both performed extremely well.'
He said he didn't think Fredrick looked quite right late in the game, telling him 'Get a little bit of treatment and be ready to go at the end of next week.'
Illinois, said Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon, 'is a very, very great team, very well-coached, a lot of great players on that team.
'At the end of the day, I don't think we played very good tonight and we were still right there with them.'
Iowa came to Indianapolis projected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs. A win over NCAA-bound Wisconsin and a loss to probable No. 1-seed Illinois shouldn't change that.
Bohannon, who had 20 points and six assists, said 'We've put ourselves in a damn good position to make something special. We lost a tough one to Illinois, but our 2-seed is going to hold true. We're going to be a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament and be in that good position to make a run."
Conference tournaments are soon forgotten on Selection Sunday. Iowa now looks toward the big tourney. They aren't likely to collide with another team of Illinois' caliber for a while. Maybe the two will meet once more.
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