Dosunmu, Bezhanishvili make Big Ten history while bringing hope to Illini basketball

CHAMPAIGN, IL - FEBRUARY 09: Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Montez Mathis (23) shoots the ball as Illinois Fighting Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) and Illinois Fighting Illini forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) attempt to block the ball during the Big Ten Conference college basketball game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Illinois Fighting Illini on February 9, 2019, at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois.(Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN – For once, there is something for those fans who loyally dress in orange and blue and go to the State Farm Center to cheer about this basketball season.

Those faithful rooters can thank a pair of freshmen for making that possible as they made some school history during the team’s best stretch of the season.

Freshman Ayo Dosunmu was named the Big Ten Conference’s Freshman of the Year and fellow first year player Giorgi Bezhanishvili was given the Player of the Week honor.

It came after the Illini knocked off No. 9 Michigan State then Rutgers in Champaign last week, with Dosunmu leading them to the win over the Spartans and Bezhanishvili helping Illinois to an overtime win over the Scarlet Knights.

It marks the first time in Big Ten history that two different players on the same team took home those awards. The conference started the Freshman of the Week honor during the 2010-2011 season.

A former Morgan Park star, Dosunmu played arguably his best game of the year in the biggest victory of the Brad Underwood era. He scored a game-high 24 points, and hit a three-pointer on back-to-back possessions in the final three minutes to give the Illini the lead for good.

It was one point short of his career high for Illinois and marked the seventh time he reached 20 point during the season. He’s averaging 14.1 points per game and pushed that average to 18 points a contest during the two games last week along with 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals.

In that win over Rutgers, it was Bezhanishvili who took the spotlight in a record-breaking performance. The forward went 14-of-18 from the field and scored an Illinois freshman record 35 points in an over 99-94 overtime victory that extended their win streak to a season-high three game.

It broke the record that was set by Deon Thomas back in December of 1990, and continued a breakthrough season for the freshman from Rustavi, Georgia, who was discovered during his senior year at The Patrick School in New Jersey. He’s averaging 12.2 points and five rebounds per game.

It’s still a longshot that the Illini would get to .500 this season overall thanks to a rough start, and an even longer road to play in a postseason tournament of any kind. But the excitement generated by Dosunmu and Bezhanishvili this past week, and the honors they received, have brought some joy to the Illinois fanbase that’s well overdue.


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