Dosunmu Strikes Again as Penn State Falls to Illinois
On Feb. 18, 2020, the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions hosted the Illinois Fighting Illini in the third-to-final home game of the regular season. Only THON would surpass the energy of the crowd that Tuesday night in the Bryce Jordan Center, as the upper bowl was opened to hold a near-capacity crowd.
The hype was real in Happy Valley. Lamar Stevens and company were eyeing Penn State’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011. Their spot at No. 9 was their highest ranking in the AP Poll since 1996.
The script was already written in the eyes of the Nittany Lion faithful. The blue and white would continue their Cinderella season with a thrilling win against Illinois.
But then-sophomore Ayo Dosunmu had other ideas. He silenced the crowd with 24 points to lead his Fighting Illini to a 62-56 victory. Little did anybody know that he was in agonizing pain after a scary slip and fall just a week before in a game against Michigan State. Whether he felt the effects or not, he was by far the best player on the court.
While no one will ever know how either team would’ve performed in tournament play last season, Penn State and Illinois were heading in opposite directions. The Nittany Lions went on to lose four of their last five games of the season, while the Illini won four of their last five. Dosunmu and head coach Brad Underwood were ready to make some noise in the postseason, while Pat Chambers was left scratching his head.
Fast forward to Dec. 23. After months of uncertainty, the teams were ready to rematch at the BJC. But the Happy Valley atmosphere was different: Chambers and Stevens were gone, Illinois was the ranked team this time around at No. 18, and only the teams and media were in attendance.
Dosunmu appeared to be missing as well. He was scoreless and facing a 23-12 deficit eight minutes into the contest. But teammate Kofi Cockburn made up for his absence with 16 points in the first half. Nittany Lions Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington both had 13 at the half in a 43-43 tie at the break.
But Dosunmu made his presence known in the second half. He scored 21 to give him 30 points total and Illinois a 98-81 victory. Cockburn also had 23, as Illinois moved to 6-3 overall on the season, while Penn State fell to an even 3-3.
The junior guard from Chicago asserted his dominance once again, particularly with just 27 seconds to go when he was ejected after a scuffle with Penn State senior Jamari Wheeler. Interim head coach Jim Ferry didn’t think much of it and was more impressed with the play of Dosunmu and Cockburn.
“They’re two NBA players and that’s a good luxury to have,” Ferry said. “When one’s a guard and one’s a giant, that’s difficult to guard.”
The Illini could’ve stirred Penn State’s pot once again but this time much earlier on in the season. Ferry doesn’t have a guy like Stevens to go to this year, and the Big Ten is better than ever.
The Nittany Lions get a week off before their next game in Bloomington against Indiana Dec. 30 at 8:30 p.m. They’ll take on Dosunmu and company once again on Jan. 20 in Champaign.
Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.