CHAMPAIGN – When he committed to the school, there was hope that he’d be the one to help lead the program back to relevance in the Big Ten.
Ayo Dosunmu has done what he can during his first year at Illinois, but he like the team has gone through a number of highs and lows this season. But perhaps Tuesday night is an example of what the former Morgan Park star can do to elevate his game along with the Illini’s place in college basketball.
The Chicago native scored a game-high 24 points and hit a critical pair of three-pointers in the final three minutes to give Illinois a 79-74 upset of No. 9 Michigan State at the State Farm Center. It’s the biggest victory of the season for Brad Underwood’s rebuilding team, who snaps a 17-game losing streak for the program in games against Top Ten teams. It’s their first win over a team ranked in that group since February 7, 2013, when the upset then No. 1 Indiana on a Tyler Griffey’s last-second layup.
Dosunmu finished 8-of-14 from the field and 4-of-7 from behind the arc, but he hit two critical long-range shots late after Michigan State erased a 14-point second half deficit to grab the lead. After Andres Feliz tied the game with a three-point play, it was the guard that made the critical shots to grab the lead for good, knocking down three-pointers in back-to-back possessions to put the Illini up by six.
Illinois then held off the Spartans in the final 1:57, sealing the win, and triggering a court-storming by the success-starved Illini fans who waited six years for a similar victory.
During Illinois’ four Big Ten wins of the season, Dosunmu has played a major part in helping Illinois to the victory. After scoring 23 points in a loss to then No. 2 Michigan on January 10th, the guard repeated the scoring output in the Illini’s first conference win six days later, hitting 9-of-13 shots in a 27-point home win over the Gophers.
Dosunmu reached the 20 point mark again against then No. 13 Maryland at Madison Square Garden on January 26th, hitting that exact number in points along with six assists in the surprising victory. He had 13 points against Nebraska in the Illini’s win on Saturday before a big night against the ninth-ranked Spartans on Tuesday.
Coming into Tuesday’s contest, Dosunmu has averaged 13.8 points per game along with 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest. It’s performances like that which have some mentioning the possibility of the guard leaving Champaign after one season for the NBA Draft. Whether that happens or not is to be seen, but for the moment, the Chicago native is helping Illinois take steps back towards relevance in the Big Ten.