Do­sunmu pro­vides sud­den im­pact

Emo­tions ‘in­cred­i­ble’ as ex-Mor­gan Park star nets 18 in de­but

Daily Southtown - - SPORTS - By Shan­non Ryan

CHAMPAIGN — Dur­ing a time­out in the clos­ing min­utes Thurs­day, as Illi­nois had Evansville in a stran­gle­hold, coach Brad Un­der­wood called fresh­man Ayo Do­sunmu to sit next to him on the bench while the rest of the team hud­dled.

Un­der­wood spoke to Do­sunmu for just a minute — chew­ing him out about miss­ing all three of his free throws — but the con­ver­sa­tion ended with a cou­ple of pats on the back.

The re­as­sur­ing pats were de­served as the fresh­man from Mor­gan Park lived up to the fev­er­ish an­tic­i­pa­tion of his de­but in a No. 11 Illi­nois jer­sey. His stat line was so packed, no­body be­sides his coach seemed to no­tice the missed free throws.

Illi­nois, a pro­gram that has been in des­per­ate need of a true star, may have found one who can de­liver.

“The emo­tions were in­cred­i­ble, play­ing for my home state,” Do­sunmu said. “Hav­ing the jer­sey on for real. I just wanted to come out and play hard.”

Do­sunmu looked smooth even as he ag­gres­sively bat­tled for loose balls and used his deft hands for steals in a thor­ough 99-60 dis­man­tling of Evansville. He fin­ished with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting with six re­bounds, four as­sists and three steals.

Af­ter the game, he draped a towel over his head and joined his team­mates to high-five fans in the cel­e­bra­tory stu­dent sec­tion be­fore be­ing in­ter­viewed on the postgame ra­dio show. Then he headed to a news con­fer­ence, where he show­cased his bas­ket­ball knowl­edge, men­tion­ing play­ers such as John Stock­ton and Den­nis Rod­man.

A home-state kid who can con­sis­tently de­liver could pay tremen­dous div­i­dends if he can keep it up.

“He set a tone in com­ing here,” Un­der­wood said. “The one thing that Ayo has is ex­treme pride, not just in him­self and his fam­ily and

his city and state but this univer­sity. That be­comes very ev­i­dent when you talk to him.

“The sys­tem lined up and hap­pened to fit. The char­ac­ter piece of what we go af­ter is that. We look for guys who want to play in our sys­tem at our univer­sity.”

The Illini are seek­ing to defy low ex­pec­ta­tions with eight new­com­ers and erase mem­o­ries of last sea­son’s dis­ap­point­ing 14-18 record (4-14 Big Ten) in Un­der­wood’s first sea­son.

Against the Pur­ple Aces, they dis­played the pace and tran­si­tion game Un­der­wood had promised to bring to Champaign as a sig­na­ture style. They scored 32 points off 26 Evansville turnovers and av­er­aged 1.269 points per pos­ses­sion.

Se­nior Aaron Jor­dan, who scored a team-high 19 points with five 3-point­ers, said he had not played at a quick clip like this in his time in Champaign. Once Illi­nois grabs a de­fen­sive re­bound, he said, “we’re gone.”

The Illini were ef­fi­cient on both ends. They shot 56.3 per­cent, mak­ing 12 3-point­ers, while hold­ing the Pur­ple Aces to 38.7 per­cent shooting.

Illi­nois’ suc­cess is de­pen­dent on rapid de­vel­op­ment of its new­com­ers — with as few grow­ing pains as pos­si­ble — while creat­ing chem­istry. The Illini re­ceived 16 points from ju­nior-col­lege trans­fer An­dres Feliz, 10 re­bounds from fresh­man cen­ter Giorgi Bezhan­ishvili and eight points and four re­bounds from fresh­man wing Te­vian Jones off the bench.

Un­der­wood called the guard trio of Trent Fra­zier, Do­sunmu and Jor­dan a “three-headed mon­ster.” Fra­zier had 10 points, seven as­sists and two steals.

Do­sunmu called his per­for­mance “OK” af­ter­ward.

“Dur­ing the game I was ner­vous play­ing for the first time re­ally in front of ev­ery­body,” he said. “But it was fun.”

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