Ayo Dosunmu, No. 4 Illinois Beat No. 7 Ohio State 73-68 for Big Ten Win

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 6, 2021

Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu controls the ball against Northwestern in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)
Holly Hart/Associated Press

The No. 4 Illinois Fighting Illini wrapped up their regular-season schedule on Saturday by getting revenge on the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes with a 73-68 victory on the road at the Schottenstein Center. 

When these two teams first met in Champaign on Jan. 16, the Buckeyes handed Illinois an 87-81 home loss thanks to a season-high 26 points from E.J. Liddell. 

Illinois got a boost in the rematch with the return of star guard Ayo Dosunmu. The junior missed the previous three games because of a concussion he suffered on Feb. 23 against Michigan State. 

Dosunmu proved to be a significant addition in this game. His layup with 44 seconds to play broke a 68-68 tie. He scored six of Illinois' final nine points over the last four minutes to help secure the win. 

E.J. Liddell had a terrific performance for Ohio State in defeat. He led the Buckeyes with 19 points and grabbed four rebounds. 


Notable Game Stats

  • Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois: 19 points (7-of-10 FG), 4 rebounds, 3 assists
  • Kofi Cockburn, Illinois: 12 points (6-of-11 FG), 6 rebounds
  • Andre Curbelo, Illinois: 19 points (6-of-8 FG), 6 assists, 5 rebounds
  • E.J. Liddell, OSU: 19 points (8-of-17 FG), 4 rebounds
  • Duane Washington Jr., OSU: 15 points (6-of-18 FG), 6 assists
  • Justice Sueing, OSU: 15 points (4-of-6 FG), 8 rebounds

Dosunmu's Return Carries Illinois 

After Illinois destroyed Michigan at Crisler Center by 23 points without Dosunmu on Tuesday, head coach Brad Underwood's team is making a case to be the best in the country. 

Gonzaga has a stronghold on that title right now as the lone unbeaten team in the nation, but the Illini play in a conference that currently has four teams ranked in the Top Seven and six teams overall in the Associated Press Top 25

Illinois made it through that gauntlet of opponents with a 20-6 record. 

Even though Dosunmu's return was the big story on Saturday, Illinois needed Kofi Cockburn's presence in the paint and Andre Curbelo's scoring off the bench to give the team additional scoring options. 

Dosunmu played up to his usual standards. He tied Curbelo for the team high in scoring and missed just three of his 10 field-goal attempts. 

Big Ten Network @BigTenNetwork

This, likely, won't be the last big shot @AyoDos_11 hits in the second half. https://t.co/lOhfT5M8GR

Andy Olson @WCIA3Andy

Ayo Dosunmu hasn't missed a shot with the mask https://t.co/ZrDZeIKnyC

Cockburn created all sorts of problems for Ohio State early in the game. The 7-footer had 10 of his 12 points in the first 15 minutes of the first half. Curbelo's 19 points on Saturday were a season high and the third straight game he's had at least 17 points. 

The biggest play of the game was Dosunmu's go-ahead layup in the final minute that wound up being the last lead change for either side. 

Illinois on BTN @IllinoisOnBTN

One final B1G @AyoDos_11 dagger: https://t.co/RW3PHJdOm0 https://t.co/GVQ9BIPP2k

Nico Haeflinger @NicoFOXIL

Ayo Dosunmu proved he’s the best player in the country today.

Ricky O'Donnell @SBN_Ricky

Ayo Dosunmu: 19 points, four rebounds, three on 7-of-10 shooting in his return. Had the game-winning and-one in the final minute. Ayo should be royalty in Champaign forever for blessing them with three years. He has turned into everything you want out of a college lead guard.

By virtue of having a big-time scorer who is capable of making plays in crucial moments, Illinois is in prime position to make a significant run in the NCAA tournament. It may have locked up a No. 1 seed with this victory, though a deep run in the Big Ten tournament next week would solidify the team's standing.

Liddell's Second-Half Surge Can't Lift Buckeyes

On the day that Liddell was named one of the 15 finalists for this year's Wooden Award, the Ohio State star looked like he was going to disappoint in a marquee game. 

Liddell finished the first half with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 17 minutes. The Buckeyes were able to stay within four points at halftime thanks to Duane Washington Jr.'s 11 points. 

The second half proved to be a turning point for Liddell. He scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting in his attempt to lead the Buckeyes back. 

Big Ten Network @BigTenNetwork

Another big E.J. Liddell bucket. 💪 No surprise, No. 4 at No. 7 is a close one. @EasyE2432 // @OhioStateHoops https://t.co/u7Vjzjzfkh

Adam Jardy @AdamJardy

E.J. Liddell has 10 of Ohio State's last 12 points, and the #Buckeyes lead 68-64 with 3:46 to play. He's got 14 of his 19 in the second half.

In one crucial sequence, Trent Frazier's three-pointer got Illinois to within one point at 65-64 with 4:14 remaining. Liddell responded with a three of his own on an assist from Washington that gave the Buckeyes some breathing room. 

Big Ten Network @BigTenNetwork

E.J. Liddell (@EasyE2432) wants this sweep of Illinois. The @OhioStateHoops star's also playing like he wants All-B1G 1st-team honors. https://t.co/vk7Y94RQ7C

Unfortunately, Ohio State missed its final 10 field-goal attempts. Liddell only attempted two shots during that span. 

Saturday was a bad day overall for the Buckeyes offense. They shot just 40 percent overall and made nine of their 29 three-point attempts. 

That's been a consistent problem for Ohio State during its current four-game losing streak. The offense is shooting just 29-of-87 from behind the arc over this stretch. 

Until the Buckeyes get consistent scoring around Liddell, they will continue to struggle. They briefly looked like they had figured things out in the second half, but they went ice cold down the stretch when they needed a basket the most. 


What's Next?

Illinois and Ohio State will travel to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the start of the Big Ten tournament, which begins March 10.