Illinois is familiar with Ayo Dosunmu playing hero in games. The game-winners against Penn State and Michigan come to mind, as well as daggers against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and countless other teams.
But on Saturday — when Dosunmu returned to the court after missing three games with a broken nose and concussion — he looked like a hero too.
Mask or no mask... you know this face. pic.twitter.com/AyIV56QcvR— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) March 6, 2021
Dosunmu sported a black face mask — that resembled one of Batman — and returned to action. Basketball is a sport that relies on vision, so the junior guard kept his mask on around his apartment in order to get used to having it on.
Even with the covering, it was still uncertain if Dosunmu had cleared concussion protocol to play. But on Saturday afternoon, Jamarra Dosunmu gave a pretty big signal that her son, the Illini’s hero, would play.
Dosunmu played in his first game since the Illini’s loss to Michigan State last week and was excellent. He started the day 5-of-5 from the field and finished with a team-high 19 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Dosunmu is the only player in the NCAA over the last 11 seasons to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. https://t.co/5pZTei9bzf— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) March 6, 2021
The Illini won by five points, topping No. 7 Ohio State, 73-68, and those last five points came off the fingertips of the masked hero. Just like he has done for the last three years, Ayo saved the day.
“I feel like a superhero with a black mask on,” Dosunmu said after the victory.
And a superhero he was.
Batman is often called the Caped Crusader — think of Ayo the same way, except his cape is a sleeveless orange, white or blue jersey that dons the No. 11 and the name Dosunmu on the back.
"I feel like a super hero with a black mask on" pic.twitter.com/vNvEOOS7AV— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) March 6, 2021
Dosunmu has a story that continues to write itself, but even if you closed the Illinois chapter right now, it would be an impressive read. Dosunmu has resurrected an iconic program, set numerous records, won various Big Ten and national awards and still has room for a final chapter that could include a Big Ten title, a National Championship, the Bob Cousy Award, the Wooden Award, the Naismith Player of the Year Award, the Big Ten Player of the Year Award and more.
He’s led Illinois to its most conference wins in a season ever with 16 and its two most successful combined conference seasons. The win over Ohio State most likely means Illinois is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a tourney the Illini haven't appeared in since Dosunmu was in middle school.
He’s off to the NBA after this season, so Saturday afternoon in Columbus was his last opportunity to play in a regular season game for Illinois. So to no one’s surprise, he was the hero once again.
Thank you to the Illini’s Dark Knight who saved
Goth Champaign-Urbana for what seems like the millionth time.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “I came back to write a story and be a part of history with my teammates.”