CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Even though it was just a midterm, Illinois showed it can pass the final.
In a rematch of last March’s season finale, Ayo Dosunmu and the Illini made for the same result, beating No. 7 Iowa in a thriller, this time 80-75. Halfway through the Big Ten slate, Illinois sits at 7-3 and in the top-4 in conference, now also with a signature win over National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza and the Hawkeyes’ plethora of shooters.
The Illini showed no rust despite playing for the first time in 10 days. Meanwhile, Iowa came into Friday after its worst game of the year, a 12-point loss at home to an Indiana team that Illinois beat by nine last month.
“We got stops when we needed to against a team that I think is one of the three best offensive teams in college basketball,” said Brad Underwood postgame.
Slow starts may have plagued the Illini as of late, but the start in Friday night’s game was anything but slow — for both teams. As the game reached the under-8 media timeout, the game was tied 28-28, with the over/under pregame set at 161.5 (it didn’t hit).
Before the game, head coach Brad Underwood had high praise for Iowa’s Luka Garza, calling him the best player in the country.
But it was Underwood’s own Player of the Year candidate who shined on Lou Henson Court.
“We needed this win for our dreams to come true,” said Ayo Dosunmu.
The preseason All-American led all scorers with 25 points, including a perfect night from behind the three-point line.
After the game, Dosunmu’s head coach was fast to correct his comment (that may have been made for motivation purposes only).
“When Ayo locks in and defends like he did tonight,” Underwood said. “He’s the best player in college basketball.”
The first half featured a back and forth between the two stars, with Garza leading Iowa with 13 points and Dosunmu pacing the Illini with 21 points.
Thanks to a late Trent Frazier heave at the shot clock buzzer, the Illini took a 43-41 lead into the break. Despite putting up one of their highest point totals of the first half in a game this season, Kofi Cockburn was awfully quiet.
Cockburn scored just a single point on a free throw and sat most of the first half with two fouls. Illinois needed a big second half from its big man to keep pace with the Hawkeyes. It was Cockburn’s late free throw make that iced the Illini win.
As Garza began to pick up fouls, Cockburn made his presence felt. The sophomore big had his consecutive streak of double-doubles snapped at six (10 rebounds, nine points), but a few key buckets kept Illinois in front.
“He knows that his impact isn’t just about making a basket. His impact is (also) what he does on the defensive end,” Underwood said. “Just the hitting [Luka] Garza, the putting his body on him, all those things over the course of 40 minutes wear a guy out.”
A late reversal of a goaltending call — changed to a block by Cockburn — all but assured the Illini victory. However, Illinois took a five second inbound violation with under half a minute to play, and a Jordan Bohannon missed three for the tie clinched the win for Illinois.
As big of a win it was for the program, the veterans are focused on what’s to come in the Big Ten.
“We’re hungry,” Dosunmu said.
THE McCAFFREY EFFECT
Despite averaging just three points a game in Big Ten play, Connor McCaffrey had a season high 11 points for the Hawkeyes on Friday. The last time he had more than 10 points was also against the Illini, in last March’s season finale.
Illinois’ senior guard Trent Frazier was ‘on a heater’ during practice this week, according to Brad Underwood, and he had his best game since his sophomore season to show for it. Frazier put up a season-high 24 points — his previous season-high was 19 points against Rutgers. While the offense from Frazier was a much-needed boost, he knows that isn’t his game these days.
“I’m going to have nights like that and I’m not going to have nights like that,” Frazier said.
But it’s Frazier’s lockdown defense that is consistent, and one day removed from being snubbed from the midseason defensive player of the year watchlist, Frazier held Iowa’s sharpshooter Jordan Bohannon to just six points, well below his season average that sat above 10 before Friday’s game.
“Obviously my teammates believe in me guarding the other team’s best player,” Frazier said after Friday night’s game. “I try to go out there and do my job the best I can. Obviously [not making the watchlist is] frustrating because I know what I can do on that side of the ball.”
- Ayo Dosunmu led the way with a game-high 25 points (21 in the first half).
- Luka Garza (Iowa) led Iowa with 19 points.
- Andre Curbelo led all players with 8 assists.
- Jacob Grandison had his first career double-double, with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
- Joe Wieskamp (Iowa) was on fire behind the three-point line, sinking 5-of-7 from deep.
- Dosunmu has scored double-digits in 31 straight games — Iowa’s Garza extended his streak to 40 straight on Friday.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Adam Miller is blonde now:
Adam Miller is the Blonde Bomber tonight!! pic.twitter.com/w9DNmKYXbv— Jim Mattson (@hoijim) January 30, 2021
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Luke Garza wanted no part of Ayo Dosunmu on this drive:
How about Trent Frazier making this shot?
TWEET OF THE GAME
I’m not saying, I’m just saying: pic.twitter.com/PmU4lMmnFH— The Schmack Guy (@Ant_Pasquale3) January 30, 2021
HE SAID IT
“Everyone knows where we stand with Iowa relationship wise,” — Ayo Dosunmu on the Illinois/Iowa rivalry
The Illini will travel to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers for the second time this year next Tuesday on ESPN. Illinois won the last matchup 69-60 in December.