Illini knock Hoosiers, 67-66, in at-home nail biter

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Jonathan Bonaguro

Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu drives through two Indiana players toward the basket during the Illini’s game against the Hoosier at State Farm Center Sunday afternoon. Dosunmu led Illinois to a 67-66 victory over Indiana with 17 points on the day.

By Gabby Hajduk, Staff Writer

Illinois basketball hosted Indiana in a back-and-forth game Sunday afternoon, but sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu iced the game with a pair of free throws to earn the 67-66 win for the Illini.

A heads-up defensive possession by senior guard Andrés Feliz and junior guard Trent Frazier set Dosunmu up to seal the game. After Hoosier freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis missed two game-tying free throws, Indiana recovered the rebound. Feliz fought for the steal and Frazier called the remaining Illini timeout to save the possession.

“Ayo Dosunmu I think setting the tone in the first half, diving on the floor three times for a loose ball,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “That’s Illinois basketball. It just so happens there were a lot of plays in between there and a couple other possessions with guys on the floor.”

“Then the last place of the game happens, in one of the most critical times, and Andrès Feliz dives on the floor to save a ball game, to save a possession from them. Those are the little things that allow you to win.”

Dosunmu led the Illini with 17 points, while Feliz and freshman center Kofi Cockburn each added 15 points.

Cockburn fueled the second-half breakthrough, scoring six consecutive points to push the Illini to a six-point lead with six minutes to play. The freshman also added a career-high six blocks.

“You get him (Cockburn) three feet from the rim, there’s a lot of good things that are going to happen,” Underwood said. “It was his early deep post-ups, his ability to create just a little bit of an angle. He had a size advantage not just in girth but in height as well.”

“Kofi doesn’t shy from those moments. He wants the ball and knows he’s going to get fouled….. It’s a great feeling to know you can get the ball to the front of the rim and he’s going to make free throws or we’re going to score.

After Cockburn’s run, the Hoosiers closed back in using a three-pointer from junior Aljami Durham to shrink the Illini lead to two points. But, Dosunmu quickly answered with a three of his own to push the lead back to five.

Sophomore Rob Phinisee kept Indiana in the game with a three-pointer at the 1:14 mark, but Feliz’s steal and Dosunmu’s free throws kept the Hoosiers from making the comeback.

Durham, Jackson-Davis and Phinisee all scored in the double digits for the Hoosiers scoring 13, 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Indiana challenged Illinois in the paint, winning the rebound battle 39-31. Cockburn grabbed just five rebounds, but Feliz picked up the slack, grabbing seven rebounds.

While Cockburn broke open a lead in the second half, the Illini and Hoosiers were tied 36-36 at halftime. Illinois and Indian traded the lead three times in the first half and were tied up six times. Illinois shot 48.1% from the field in the first half while Indiana shot 46.4%.

The Illini earned their 20th win of the season for the first time since 2013. Illinois no has a 12-6 conference record which ties Michigan State for second place in the Big Ten.

Illinois has just two more regular-season games as the team travels to No. 23 Ohio State Thursday and hosts No. 18 Iowa in the home finalé next Sunday.

“We came here to win Big Ten championships,” Underwood said. “It’s the next game, yes, just keep winning and trying to stack them up, but we came here to win. We’re not out of it yet and we’re in the last week of the season and I feel great about that.”

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