PHOENIX (AP) – Kofi Cockburn had 23 points and 14 rebounds, Andres Feliz added 21 points and Illinois pulled away late to beat Grand Canyon 83-61 Friday night.
Illinois (2-0) worked the ball inside to Cockburn early and that opened up the rest of the floor. The Illini led by four at halftime and stretched it to 14 with a big run to start the second half.
Riding the energy from one of college basketball’s best home crowds, Grand Canyon (0-2) kept it close in the first half and made a late run to cut the Illini’s lead to four.
Illinois kept the Antelopes at arm’s length from there to open a two-game trip to the desert with a win before facing No. 21 Arizona on Sunday.
Illinois scored 15 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds and had a 44-32 advantage in the paint.
Isiah Brown led Grand Canyon with 18 points and Jovan Blacksher Jr. added 14.
With 85% of their scoring back and a frenetic, turnover-producing defense, the Illini ratcheted up expectations entering their third season under Brad Underwood.
Illinois instead got it off to an inauspicious start, needing overtime to beat Nicholls at home in its opener.
Grand Canyon got its seventh season under former Phoenix Suns star Dan Majerle off to a shaky start, losing by 11 at home to Division II Davenport.
The Antelopes have their smallest team under Majerle, so it was no surprise they had trouble stopping Cockburn inside. The 7-foot Jamaican freshman powered his way past GCU defenders throughout the first half, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds by halftime.
When the Antelopes started closing in on Cockburn, Feliz took over, scoring 12 first-half points.
Grand Canyon kept pace from the 3-point arc, where it struggled in the opener. The Lopes made 5 of 9 in the first half – they were 2 for 19 against Davenport – to stay within 41-37 at halftime.
Illinois hit its first six shots to open the second half on a 15-4 run, pushing the lead to 56-41.
The Antelopes kept Illinois from running away with it, hanging around before trimming the lead to 71-67 with four minutes left.