Illinois’ historic season has a bitter end – thanks a lot to Loyola’s defense

Big 10 Sports

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 21: Kofi Cockburn #21 of the Illinois Fighting Illini is pressured by Cameron Krutwig #25 and Keith Clemons #5 of the Loyola Ramblers in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS – There was a word that was thrown around a lot by a guard that many consider one of the best in school history, who likely played the final game of his college career on Sunday.

“Medicine” is what Ayo Dosunmu said a few times in his remarks to reporters after Illinois’ 71-58 defeat at the hands of Loyola in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday. It’s one of the biggest upsets of the tournament so far as the top-seeded Illini, favored by some to win it all, saw their stay in Indianapolis last just a weekend.

Likely headed to the NBA after three outstanding seasons in Champaign, Dosunmu was reflective about the game and his career just shortly after its conclusion.

“I told my team, keep your heads high. We didn’t win. We wanted to win this game. We didn’t get it done, but at the end of the day you’ve got to take your medicine,” said Dosunmu. “That’s what I’m doing now, I’m taking my medicine. All the good that’s been coming this season, we were at a high and we played well, even how we were feeling when we won the Big Ten championship.

“The Lord just had different plans for us now, and it’s all about taking your medicine.”

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, though, considering the incredible hopes that were there for the guard and the Illini coming into the tournament. In the “Big Dance” for the first time since 2013, Brad Underwood’s team won 15 of 16 games coming into play this weekend, including a Big Ten Tournament championship.

They easily took care of buisness in their first round game againts Drexel, showing off their skills in a decisive 78-49 win. It all changed when they faced Loyola, who had the antidote to Illinois’ incredibly efficient offense all season.

Cameron Krutwig took care of the middle while experienced guards Lucas Williamson and Keith Clemons caused problems for Illinois’ talented guards. Dosunmu was held to just 4-of-10 shooting for nine points on the game while Trent Frazier made just 1-of-10 shots for two points, his lowest output of the season.

The Illini committed 17 turnovers and never once led in the game, and weren’t even tied after the Ramblers grabbed a 4-2 lead. The closest Illinois would get in the final 26:08 of the game was five points, with the lead staying over double-digits most of the second half.

“We didn’t expect them to play a deep ball screen coverage, which they had done a lot, and they got up and really did a good job of boxing us in. We didn’t do a very good job of playing out of it,” said Underwood of Loyola’s defense. “We had two or three or four turnovers real early, and again, we said this was a team that was very much like an Indiana team we faced defensively, and we didn’t handle it very well.

“Again, give them credit.”

Because of that, Illinois had their earliest exit from the tournament as a No. 1 seed. They made the national semifinal as the top seed in 1989, reached the Elite Eight as a No. 1 in 2001, and lost in the championship game in 2005.

The Illini were supposed to be the next team to try and give the program a first national championship. Loyola’s ferocious defense has extended that drought for at least another year.

“I just think we didn’t get in a rhythm offensively. What did we shoot from the field? 22-for-49, yeah. I don’t know,” said Dosunmu. “Yeah, I don’t think we really got in a rhythm how we wanted to be, how we’d normally be. Like I said, credit to them. They had a great game plan. They executed the game plan well. Yeah, credit to them.”

It’s a taste of the Illini’s own medicine in a memorable season, with an early tournament exit providing the most bitter of pills to swallow.

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