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No. 8 Illinois escapes scare against Ohio, 77-75

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The Illini complete the opening week sweep.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you have to grind them out.

It wasn't always pretty, but the No. 8 Illini (3-0) finished off the Thanksgiving week sweep with a 77-75 win over Ohio (2-1) at State Farm Center on Friday afternoon.

“We found a way to win it, we got tested,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “We learned a lot.”

With the Illini down 75-74 with 7.7 seconds left, the ball was in the hands of Preseason All-American Ayo Dosunmu. He sliced through the lane and was fouled going for the go-ahead bucket. He hit both free throws in crunch time to give Illinois the lead — and the win.

“Ayo Dosunmu in an open court is pretty scary,” Underwood said.

What did Ayo think of the final play?

“That’s what I lift weights for.”

After winning the first two games of the season by a combined 121 points, the Illini were in a fistfight with Ohio. In the second half, the Illini trailed by as many as eight points with 13:43 to play. A three-pointer from Da’Monte Williams, an and-one from Adam Miller and a pair of free throws from Williams erased that deficit.

“I’m really, really proud of them,” Underwood said.

A few ferocious Kofi Cockburn slams and some more back and forth had the game in a deadlock 67-67 with less than three minutes to go.

The key? Getting Cockburn cooking.

“He can be such a dominant force as we saw in the second half,” Underwood said.

Cockburn had 13 points and 14 rebounds in the game, after putting up just four and six in the first half.

Aside from Cockburn, Dosunmu carried the load. What’s new? Just Ayo Dosunmu doing Ayo Dosunmu things. The Illini offense was mostly stagnant in the first half, aside from Dosunmu, who carried them. The Chicago native had 16 points and five rebounds alone in the first half — he finished with 27 points and seven rebounds while adding eight assists, including the game-winning free throws at the end of the game.

In just the third game of his third year, Dosunmu has reached the 1,000 point milestone for his career. The junior joins Trent Frazier as the two active Illini in the 1,000 point club.

Jason Preston was the story for the Bobcats. His 20 first-half points had Ohio up 31-30 with under three minutes to go in the first half and down just one at the break. The Bobcats played Illinois neck-and-neck through the first 20 minutes, leading for just as much time as the Illini did. Still, Dosunmu did just enough to give the Illini a slight edge heading into half, 35-34.

Preston finished the game leading all scorers with 33 points.

Ben Vander Plas joined Preston with 20-plus points. The Ohio big man finished with 20 points, including four three pointers.

Ohio shot well from three connecting on five of its first 10 attempts from behind the arc, and ended up making nine from distance. The Illini’s turnover-plagued first half mixed with Ohio’s touch from deep kept the game tight all day long.

“Every time we play a game, we’re gonna get everybody’s best shot,” Dosunmu said.

With No. 6 Kansas and No. 4 Virginia taking losses this week, Illinois could see its No. 8 ranking improve before its top-ten matchup with No. 2 Baylor next week.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Ayo Dosunmu has scored 20+ points in three consecutive games, for the first time in his collegiate career.
  • Kofi Cockburn’s double-double made it three consecutive games with a double-double to start the campaign.
  • Jason Preston scored 17 straight Bobcat points at one point in the contest.
  • Da’Monte Williams notched his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

SOUND SMART

The Illini led by a combined 69 points at the half in their first two games, but took just a 1-point lead into the break against the Bobcats.

TWEET(S) OF THE GAME

NOT ILLINOIS RELATED BUT SAMBA KANE (2 rebounds) BEAT THE OTHER ORANGE AND BLUE TEAM.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Look at Kofi leading the break on Ayo’s milestone bucket.

HE SAID IT

“I like to say this is a blessing in disguise. You really don’t want to be winning by 40, 30, and then when you play a good team and face adversity, sometimes teams lose,” Dosunmu said.

WHO’S NEXT

Arguably the toughest matchup on Illinois’ entire schedule, the Illini head to Indianapolis on Wednesday to take on the No. 2 Baylor Bears at 10 p.m. CT. The Bears have yet to play a game this year after head coach Scott Drew tested positive for COVID-19. They play the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns on Saturday evening.