Exactly one week ago, Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu went down on the final play against Michigan State, and it looked like his career with the Illini was in jeopardy.
On Tuesday night, he was the catalyst for one of their biggest wins of the season. The 62-56 victory over No. 9 Penn State (20-6, 10-5) at University Park, Pa. also snapped a four-game skid for Illinois (17-9, 9-6) and is its first win in the month of February.
The win couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. Three very winnable games — two of which are at home — loom on the horizon and give the Illini the opportunity to reestablish much-needed momentum headed into No. 25 Ohio State, No. 20 Iowa, and the Big Ten Tournament.
Dosunmu (24 points) showed in the first half just how much the Illini missed him last Saturday at Rutgers, He opened the game with a turnover, but turned quickly settled back into his groove. The offense looked the best it has in weeks with the keys back in Dosunmu’s hands, and after Kofi Cockburn picked up his second foul just four minutes in, Illinois needed him.
The sophomore responded with one of his patented pull-up jumpers while steering the Illini to a lead as large as five. When they were clinging to the lead in a four-minute drought, it was Dosunmu who weathered the storm with back-to-back buckets. Fellow sophomore Alan Griffin pitched in nine first-half points and three rebounds as Illinois took a 30-26 lead into the break.
The final 20 minutes were just as back-and-forth as the first 20. And it was Dosunmu who continued to lead the charge for Illinois. Every time the Illini needed a bucket, he responded. Every potential momentum-shifting Penn State basket? He answered. They built a nine-point lead with about six minutes to go, but with 92 seconds left Penn State had cut it to four.
Two free throws from the Nittany Lions made it a two-point game with 61 seconds remaining.
After Trent Frazier’s three clanged off the side of the rim with 33 seconds to go, Andres Feliz got his hands on a jump ball that kept the possession with the Illini.
Dosunmu did exactly what anyone anticipated after that, sealing the game for Illinois on a runner through the lane.
Frazier followed it up with two “gimmes” at the line. 62-56, Illinois.
- Ayo Dosunmu — 24 points, 4 rebounds
- Kofi Cockburn — 14 points, 7 rebounds
- Andres Feliz — 7 rebounds, 5 points
TWEET OF THE GAME
"Single-handedly kicked our ass" -- Pat Chambers— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) February 19, 2020
We had fun with the new broadcast...
Was Chambers eliminated or something? pic.twitter.com/7NIeXqFvfD— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) February 18, 2020
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Alan Griffin. Beautiful.
Illinois gets six days off before it welcomes Nebraska (7-18, 2-12) to town next Monday night. You can catch that one at 7 p.m. CT on BTN.