Hail Ayo, The Conquering Hero: Dosunmu Leads Illini to Victory at Michigan

Matthew Stevens

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Everywhere else in the world, the words leader and closer have six letters. In Illinois, they cut them in half and spell it with just three—Ayo.

Ayo Dosunmu once again led Illinois to a road victory in Michigan after carrying the Illini to what the sophomore guard calls a “roadkill” as he drained a game-winning contested jump shot with 0.5 seconds left to give No. 21 Illinois a 64-62 win at Michigan.

“I’m running out of adjectives to talk about Ayo at this point,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s what great players do."

The game-winner, which was just another example of Dosunmu’s late-game winning moments, gave the sophomore guard a career-high 27 points on an afternoon where he did most of his damage in the first half.

After an Illini timeout, Dosunmu was in a 1-on-1 isolation matchup with Michigan’s best defender Zavier Simpson. After a couple crossover doubles, Dosunmu simply rose up and drained a highly-contested mid-range jumper to all but silence a stunned crowd at Crisler Arena and give Illinois its third Big Ten road win this season.

“When I got into my move, I was confident and (during the Illinois timeout) I told one of my teammates that ‘yeah, we’re going home here’,” Dosunmu said. “(Coach Underwood) believed I was going to make the right play.”

During this run that has seen Illinois fly to the top of the Big Ten standings and have a national ranking for the first time in a decade, Dosunmu has seemingly done nothing but make the right plays late in games. During the last five games, all of which have been won by the Illini, Dosunmu has averaged 19.2 points and 5.4 assists per game while shooting 53.7% from the field.

Simpson would end the contest with a team-high 17 points but will likely be remembered in this game as the player who went 0 for 2 from the line in the second half and couldn’t contain the Illini’s best player and designated late-game closer.

“That last play was guarded as well as you can possibly guard it and it was a really good player making a really hard shot,” Underwood said. “Ayo knocked that down and I’m glad he’s in our uniform and on our team.”

In a game where fellow backup teammate Trent Frazier was plagued with foul trouble and sophomore wing Alan Griffin was suspended by the Big Ten Conference, Andres Feliz provided 15 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes off the Illini bench. However, coming out of the final Illinois timeout, Feliz was more than happy to be a spectator and watch Dosunmu work.

“He’s made for this,” Feliz said. “He’s made big plays all year and we just have the confidence every time that he’ll do it again. And he did today.”

Illinois (15-5, 7-2) now takes over first place in the Big Ten standings by a half-game over Michigan State (which plays tomorrow at Minnesota) and owns a regular-season sweep over Purdue and Michigan.

Michigan (11-8, 2-6) had opportunities at the foul line to close out its first win since Jan. 9, but the Wolverines missed five consecutive free throws over the final three minutes of play to give Dosunmu a chance to win it.

Before today, Illinois had not won more than five straight in Big Ten play since setting a school record with 25 consecutive conference wins spanning the 2004 and 2005 seasons (Jan. 31, 2004-March 3, 2005). Just like it accomplished at Wisconsin and Purdue earlier this season, Illinois ended a five-game losing skid in Ann Arbor spanning nearly 10 years. Illinois’s last victory at Crisler Center was a 51-44 victory on Feb. 23, 2010.

The Fighting Illini will now have four days off before returning to the State Farm Center on Jan. 30 for a 6:30 p.m. tip against Minnesota.