STATE COLLEGE, PA. – When fans of Illinois look back on this Tuesday night a few months from now, they could remember it a critical turning point for their men’s basketball team. It’s just a little odd that it came a week after a moment that some believed would be a turning point in a negative fashion.
Like all season long, Ayo Dosunmu was in the middle of it for the Illini.
A week after suffering what looked like a serious knee injury in a last second crushing loss to Michigan State, the Chicago native returned to the lineup against No. 9 Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center. His return was the most positive development in the most difficult stretch for Illinois this season, with four-straight losses putting their Big Ten title hopes on thin ice.
But over the course of 40 minutes, Dosunmu had just that in his veins, and in the process delivered a memorable performance.
» Dosunmu 24 points, 9-15 FG
» Cockburn 14 pts, 7 rebs
» Griffin 9 pts, 2 stls pic.twitter.com/FPiajHu7OU
— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) February 19, 2020
A week after his knee injury, Dosunmu returned to the lineup and scored a game-high 24 points as Illinois knocked off the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions 62-56 to snap their four-game losing streak. The guard went 9-of-15 from the floor with four rebounds and an assist, with 14 of those points coming in the second half when the Illini built as much as an eight-point lead.
Penn State would rally to cut the deficit to two in the final minute when Dosunmu delivered one of the best buckets in his Illinois career.
AYO DOSUNMU! 🔥
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 19, 2020
With the ball at the top of the key, Dosunmu crossed over Penn State guard Myles Dread and drove into the lane and hit a floater to push lead to four with 18 seconds left, putting the game out of reach. That was the last two of the former Morgan Park High School star’s 14 of the second half to push the Illini’s Big Ten record to 9-6 and overall mark to 17-10.
Kofi Cockburn chipped in 14 points and seven rebounds with Alan Griffin chipping in nine off the bench, but this night belonged to No. 11.
This game is all part of a strong year for Dosunmu, who is helping Illinois build a solid NCAA Tournament resume while also one for himself for NBA scouts. Before Tuesday, the guard was 15.8 while also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists, and that included a great effort against the Spartans before his injury. Dosunmu had 17 points, nine rebounds, and three steals and helped lead the Illini back to the lead after falling behind by 20 points in the second half.
That effort ended with a loss and an injury, but a week later the fates completely turned for the guard and his team. It’s fitting that the guard, just like he has all season long, was right in the middle of a joyous Illini moment in Happy Valley.