4-game winning streak brings good vibes to ‘Building Illini’

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COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 14: Andres Feliz #10 of the Illinois Fighting Illini shooting the ball during the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on February 14, 2019. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. — Skepticism in the direction of the Illini basketball program was completely understandable in late December, even if it was just the second year of a new regime.

Illinois lost their final non-conference game of the 2018-2019 season at home to Florida Atlantic, a team that currently sits in a tie for seventh in Conference USA, 73-71 in overtime.  It was the end of a 4-9 stretch in 2018  that included two losses in early Big Ten competition.

Doubt crept into many people’s mind about head coach Brad Underwood’s second campaign, and even the direction of a program that’s been without an NCAA appearance since the 2012-2013 season.

But now in mid-February, fueled by two talented freshmen and more consistency, Illinois is playing some of their best basketball this decade.  And many are  feeling better about the direction of the Illini program.

Thanks to a win last Thursday over Ohio State, Illinois has won four consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since February of 2017 .  The win also brought some life to what looked like a completely lost season. While their overall record (10-15) makes a postseason bid a stretch without a Big Ten Tournament championship, they have climbed from last to a tie for eighth in the conference with the Buckeyes.

That streak will get a major test on Monday night as the Illini visit No. 20 Wisconsin, who defeated them in Champaign January 24th. Illinois was 1-7 in the Big Ten at that point but has rallied from five wins in their last six games, including triumphs over then No. 13 Maryland and No. 9 Michigan State.

Former Morgan Park star and current Illini freshman Ayo Dosunmu continues to help lead the way during this stretch, picking up his second-straight Big Ten “Freshman of the Week” honor.  It was a title earned by a memorable performance against Ohio State in Illinois’ only game of the week on Thursday.  Dosunmu scored 15 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists in a 63-56 win that improved the Illini to 6-8 in the Big Ten.

Dosunmu is averaging 14.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game, and his play along with that of fellow freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili (12.2 points, 5 rebounds per game) along with sophomore Trent Frazier (team-high 14.7 points per game) have Illinois’ fans feeling positive for once in a long while.

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