Ayo Dosunmu’s career day not enough as No. 6 Illinois falls to Missouri 81-78

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Photo Courtesy of UIUC Men's Basketball Twitter

Ayo Dosunmu goes up for the layup in Illinois’ game against Missouri on Saturday night. The Illini lost the Braggin’ Rights matchup 81-78

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

COLUMBIA, Missouri — Having a star guard in college basketball is a luxury. The kind of player that can put the team on his back and score at will. When all else fails he’s the guy that can single-handedly win his team a game. Ayo Dosunmu is that player for Illinois, and on Saturday night he was doing his best superman impression, trying to will his team to victory.

Dosunmu exploded for a career-high 36 points, scoring in a variety of ways. But the lack of support around Dosunmu was exposed. Dosunmu’s record-setting day wasn’t enough, as the Tigers out hustled the Illini on their way to an 81-78 victory.

The first half was a tight and ugly brand of basketball. Every time one team pulled ahead, the opposition would counter. Missouri got a 20-16 lead before Dosunmu led a 6-0 run. He started it with a dribble pull-up inside the arc and finished it by getting to the free-throw line and making both attempts.

Free throws were a problem for the Illini throughout the contest. In the first half, they shot just 9-17 from the line, while Missouri was a perfect 16-16. With just under a minute left in the half, freshman guard Andre Curbelo missed a pair of free throws. Missouri got the rebound and pushed in semi-transition, leading to a Xavier Pinson bucket. The Tigers excelled in transition all game, finishing with 20 transition points. The 49 first-half points were the second most Illinois had allowed in a single half. The Tigers attempted 31 free throws, which was a huge part of that.

“It’s the fouls that took place when they were not scoring,” head coach Brad Underwood said. “Plays coming off a ball screen where we just run up and put their hands on them…those are plays that you can’t make. We gotta be smart and learn from it because all of those turned into points.”

Illinois picked its defense up in the second stanza, but the offense outside of Dosunmu disappeared. At one point, Dosunmu had 14 of Illinois’ 21 second-half points. He was scoring at will. But the Tigers used a balanced team attack (four players in double-figures), to outpace Illinois. A Dru Smith pull-up three gave them a 69-56 lead, which was their largest of the game.

Dosunmu would not let his team fold. The Player of the Year candidate hit a jump shot and finished an and-one to help the Illini crawl back. With just over a minute to play, Illinois had the ball with the chance to take the lead. Dosunmu went into his patented size-up and used a crossover to step back. But the refs whistled him for an offensive foul. On the ensuing possession, Tigers guard Xavier Pinson drove in the lane for a layup and the lead was back up to four.

“I think we could have executed better,” Dosunmu said. “Some of those calls down the stretch, I definitely don’t agree with. Some of those charge calls.”

Illinois had the ball down three, with just under 10 seconds remaining. They put the ball in Dosunmu’s hands but Missouri defenders. swarmed him He rejected a ball-screen but was double-teamed. He attempted to draw a foul on his defender, but Pinson stayed down and Dosunmu’s shot was wide right.

“I heard their coach screaming “foul” so I got in my shooting motion,” Dosunmu said. “And I thought there was going to be some contact.”

The outcome is a concern for Illinois. They are searching for consistent production behind Dosunmu. It’s a blessing to have a player of his caliber, but to live up to a top ten ranking, they’ll need more from the role players. Even on a career-night from their star, it was the balanced Tigers who pulled out the win.

@BrandonSimberg

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