COLUMBUS – They were in a tight, grind-out fight over the course of 40 minutes in arguably the best conference in college basketball this season. This is how it’s been for Brad Underwood’s team for most of the 2020-2021 campaign, so why should it change in their finale.
This time it was Ohio State that was the opponent for a memorable contest that went all the way down to the final minute. That’s happened a few times for Illinois this season, and it’s fitting that the finish mimicked a lot of their results over the past four months.
With Ayo Dosunmu back in the lineup after missing three games due to a facial injury, the Illini rallied back from four points down late to beat the Buckeyes 73-68 on Saturday afternoon in Columubus.
Fittingly, it was the National Players of the Year candidate that put the Illini ahead to stay with a three-point play on a layup with 44 seconds to go. Two more free throws finished off his 19 point effort, which was tied for the best on the team with Andre Curbelo.
It kicked off a major and now common postgame celebration for the Illini in the locker room at Value City Arena. The victory was the third-straight for Illinois and the second-straight against a Top Ten opponent, having beaten second-ranked Michigan Tuesday.
This was just one part of an incredible stretch of basketball for Brad Underwood’s team that began after a loss to Ohio State in Champaign on January 16th. After that, the Illini finished the regular season 11-1 with five wins over Top 25 teams.
While it may not have been enough to get the program their first Big Ten regular season championship since 2005, it probably got them their highest seed since that season. Many expect Illinois to be a No. 1 seed after their late season run, but at the worst would get at No. 2 even with a quick exit from the NCAA Tournament.
That’s certainly worth a celebration after another hard-fought game went their way this winter.