The Illini are back in the NCAAs for the first time since 2013 with a team full of first-timers to March Madness after the pandemic canceled last year’s tournament.
“It was a really good experience, especially for me,” Cockburn said. “It was just about enjoying the moment.”
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 was the site of 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 their team as a top seed for the first time since a Final Four run in 2005, seemed to get their hands on most of the tickets. They dotted the stands with blue and orange and cranked up an “I-L-L” chant late in the game.
It took their team a few minutes to find a groove.
“I thought we played with a bit of nervous energy early,” Underwood said.