CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Not more than a few feet in front of him, Brad Underwood watched the worst-case scenario happen on an Ayo Dosunmu game-deciding drive.
After slipping near the Illinois bench seconds before the buzzer sounded during the Illini’s 70-69 loss to Michigan State, the Illini third-year head coach immediately hustled to his star guard laying in the fetal position in enormous pain.
In his post-game media conference, Underwood opened with the idea that the Illini’s third home loss and second straight in a matter of a week was secondary to Dosunmu’s injury.
“You get a knot in your stomach when you have one of your guys go down,” Underwood said Tuesday night. “It was (Michigan State’s) night and our thoughts and prayers are with Ayo.”
Dosunmu would need to be helped off the State Farm Center floor Tuesday night by two members of the Illinois training staff who were careful not to put any weight or move the sophomore guard’s left leg. The details of Dosunmu’s injury are unknown at this time and Underwood said the program would not be releasing any information until something is confirmed by team doctors.
Dosunmu, who arrived as the Illini leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, finished Tuesday night's game with a team-high 17 points where he connected on 7 of 17 field goals and grabbed nine rebounds in 37 minutes.
Following what would end up being the game-winning putback dunk by Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, Dosunmu raced the ball up the floor near the Illinois bench and was beginning to make his move toward the basket with seconds left on the clock. However, the sophomore guard, who is Illinois’ leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, slipped on the floor and his left leg appeared to bend behind his body. Dosunmu immediately grabbed the middle portion of his leg near his knee after the fall and stayed down on the playing floor long after the buzzer sounded concluding Illinois’ third straight loss.
“Everybody has to do a little more when you replace a guy that is of Ayo’s stature but at this point, I don’t know if I have to replace him or not,” Underwood said.
While obviously unaware of the severity of the injury, Dosunmu’s teammates showed nothing short of remorse for their injured leader.
“I was 100 percent sure that Ayo was going to make that shot so I was just going to chase down the ball if it was an and-one situation,” Illinois freshman center Kofi Cockburn said. “To see that happen to him, at the moment, it was a little overwhelming because that’s one of our best friends. All that is in my mind now is just pray for him, pray for him and make sure I ask God to heal him to make him good. I’ve got to be there for him.”
The injury would be Dosunmu’s first significant injury of his collegiate career and would be the first time the Chicago native could miss games due to a medical issue. Dosunmu notoriously passed on the NBA draft this past summer to return to Illinois for his sophomore season saying he and the Illini program had “unfinished business” to take of during the 2019-20 season.
“It’s really tough because Ayo is one of the best players in the nation right now,” Illinois senior guard Andres Feliz said. “We don’t know until they do the tests on him and the doctors check him out but I’ll be praying for him that he’ll be okay soon to go.”
With the prospect of its leading scorer out for a significant amount of time, Illinois will now take its three-game losing streak on the road to try to end Rutgers’ undefeated streak at home Saturday and then face a surging No. 13 Penn State one week from tonight.