No. 5 Illinois tries to keep rolling at Minnesota
Ayo Dosunmu didn't hesitate at the end of an unexpectedly close game with Northwestern on Tuesday night.
Not just in launching a pair of 3-pointers with the game on the line, but in heading back down the court before both shots swished. That's how confident he was that he had played the role of Mariano Rivera and closed out another Illinois win.
"I just believed in my shot and tried to follow through," he said to the Champaign News-Gazette after a 73-66 decision kept the Fighting Illini in second place in the Big Ten Conference. "It felt good. I work on those shots every day."
Dosunmu's work next takes him to Minneapolis, where No. 5 Illinois (15-5, 11-3) aims to extend its winning streak to seven games Saturday against desperate, short-handed Minnesota (13-9, 6-9) in another Big Ten matchup.
By his recent standards, Dosunmu was relatively quiet for most of Tuesday night's game. He entered the last five minutes with two fives in his statistical column: points and turnovers. That's a combination no basketball player wants to see.
But the difference between Dosunmu and most players is that he's not only good enough to shrug off 35 minutes of average basketball, he also has the maturity and mental toughness to do something about it.
So he did, canning a jumper with four minutes left as the appetizer to consecutive 3-pointers that turned a 65-63 nail-biter into another win. Late-game heroics of that ilk add an extra dimension to his 21.3 points per game, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
They not only strengthen his candidacy for Big Ten Player of the Year, but make him a candidate for various national Player of the Year honors.
"He's worked at his game and become this type of player," said Northwestern coach Chris Collins to the News-Gazette.
While Dosunmu and the Illini are playing for a potential No. 1 seed in next month's NCAA Tournament, the Golden Gophers (13-9, 6-9) might be playing their last five conference games to get into the NCAA field.
Their 82-72 loss Wednesday night at Indiana came with injury attached to insult. Guard Gabe Kalscheur (broken finger) sat out the first of what might be multiple games. Coupled with an ankle sprain that has reduced center Liam Robbins' effectiveness, Minnesota's margin for error is suddenly smaller than Muggsy Bogues.
While the Gophers got a career-high 19 points from freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr., they also coughed up an 18-2 second-half run that turned a two-point lead into a game-deciding 14-point deficit.
"We've been dealt bad luck at a tough time," said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "but I'm very, very proud of their fight."
Marcus Carr continues to lead the Gophers in scoring at 19.4 points while dishing out 5.1 assists. Robbins averages 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds but struggled to six points and two boards in 25 minutes. He will have a very tough matchup with Illini center Kofi Cockburn and his 15 double-doubles.
The teams played on Dec. 15 in Champaign, where Illinois rolled to a 92-65 win behind 33 points and 13 boards from Cockburn.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 18, 2021