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Ayo is doing what your best player is supposed to do


NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to grouse about a victory — a shaky win is better than a glamorous loss — but we should all be breathing a big sigh of relief after Friday night’s performance. You always need to be aware of a possible letdown following an important win, but that was waaaaaaaaaay too close for my liking.

There were plenty of storylines worth talking about. It was another frustrating, herky-jerky game for the Fighting Illini offense. Coleman Hawkins got an extended look, and the 6-foot-10 frosh made the most of his opportunity, recording five points, two rebounds and a block in his 10 minutes of action. Kofi Cockburn notched another double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds) and continued to punish the rim — as BTN analyst Shon Morris pointed out, Kofi was taking “the express lane to Dunk City.” And DID YOU KNOW NEBRASKA HAD LOST 25 BIG TEN GAMES IN A ROW?

But in the end, we all bore witness to the marvel of Ayo Dosunmu. When Illinois (14-5, 10-3 Big Ten) was reeling late in the second half the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week seized control.

No Illini scored in the final 7:48 of regulation except for Ayo. No Illini scored in the first 3:49 of overtime except for Ayo. All told, he finished with 31 points on 12-of-23 shooting while playing 43 of a possible 45 minutes. My wife even joked after the game that Illinois should change its team name to the Dosunmus.

Whether or not it should’ve taken such an effort by Ayo for Illinois to beat the worst team in the Big Ten is immaterial. Ayo is doing what your best player is supposed to do. He’s the best closer in college basketball, and his ceaseless effort is ultimately going to carry the Illini.

At this pace, Dosunmu should climb ahead of Iowa’s Luka Garza in the race for Big Ten Player of the Year. And the Illini are still in good position to finish high in the conference standings with a favorable chunk of the schedule coming up — but as we watched Friday night, no victory should be taken for granted (if you actually bet on Illinois -13.5 on the road you are a degenerate and I can’t help you).

Beat Northwestern, Minnesota & Nebraska (again), and everything will be fine. And keep letting #11 do his thing.