As a corner 3 from Indiana freshman Jordan Geronimo sank, just feet away from his own energized bench, the Hoosiers were flirting with a bounce-back effort.
And after a loss to Northwestern in their Big Ten opener, at home, stealing one on the road at No. 18 Illinois would have been quite a day-late Christmas present.
But IU’s five-point lead with under 10 minutes remaining was far from safe. Not with Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu just about to get warmed up. Check that, more than warm. Blazing hot.
In a 69-60 loss at the State Farm Center, the junior guard went off for 20 second-half points, many of those coming during a 14-0 run that helped bury the Hoosiers’ hopes of an upset. A game of runs went Illinois’ way, and now IU (5-4, 0-2 Big Ten) has suffered consecutive losses to open the conference season.
Dosunmu finished with 30 points, while Illinois center Kofi Cockburn added 15 points.
“Their two studs produced,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “Ayo was the difference in the last 12 minutes.”
In the end, it was a game where Illinois just had more makes than the Hoosiers, who hit 39.7 percent from the field on the day. Miller was pleased with how the Hoosiers handled the ball at least, turning it over only eight times. IU just didn’t have enough shots go down.
Armaan Franklin was a catalyst for IU, hitting 8-of-12 on his way to 23 points. But Trayce Jackson-Davis was just 3-of-13 from the field Saturday, finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks.
After the Illini’s run to go up 58-49, IU had an opportunity to close. Jackson-Davis actually started a run with a post bucket. Franklin, who was 5-of-6 from 3, hit his fifth of the game, and Al Durham drove to the rim for two more to cut it to 60-57 with 4:10 left.
But the Hoosiers, who were in foul trouble, put Da’Monte Williams on the line for two free throw makes. Dosunmu hit another 3, and it was back to 65-57.
“He hit some tough shots,” Durham said. “He got going, he’s a good player … but we have to stop him from going to the right and getting those easy looks.”
Dosunmu closed, but both teams were cold out of the gate. Illinois (7-3, 3-1) rattled off seven straight misses to start the game. IU missed its first five, but one player, Jackson-Davis, would go on to miss his first six shots.
Franklin, who had 11 first-half points, helped pace the Hoosiers early. But after falling behind 15-9, the Illini hit eight of its next 12 shots, enough to claim a 29-27 halftime lead. Dosunmu finished the half with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.Williams, who came into Saturday hitting 14-of-20 from 3-point range, hit a pair from deep during that late first-half stretch.
The Illini went cold again at the start of the second half, hitting just three of its first 12 shots. IU, on the other hand, benefited from some renewed confidence from Durham and Phinisee. Durham, who missed his first four shots of the game, hit three out of his next four and put IU ahead, 36-35.
Phinisee, off the bench, hit a couple of clutch shots of his own. Add that to Geronimo’s 3, a big play in his first extended Big Ten minutes, and IU was able to take a 49-44 lead, even with Jackson-Davis on the bench with three fouls for almost four minutes.
But then the Illini exploded, again, for a 7-0 run over the next minute. That included a run-capping 3 from Dosunmu, who would hit two more to push the run to 14-0, and the lead to 58-49.
“The bottom line is Ayo played MVP level tonight, made every big play for them,” Miller said. “And when you have a guy to go to at the end of the game like that, makes a lot of problems for everyone else.”
IU answered to close to three points, but some empty possessions made it hard to stay in the hunt. Forward Race Thompson had a missed shot in the post. Galloway had a 3 rim out. A quick pass from Franklin to Jackson-Davis in the post went through the hands and back to the Illini, and Dosunmu hit another 3 to push it to 65-57.
“Tough, hard-fought game. Thought our guys battled hard,” Miller said. “I thought Illinois, really, in the last six to four to two minutes of the game, stepped up and made the winning plays. Loose balls played a role in it, some second shots.
“I thought for the majority of the game we defended pretty well. Offensively, we played without turning the ball over, which is a huge step forward for us moving forward in the league.”
(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)