Dosunmu tries to find bright side to Illini's tough ending
If the NBA doesn't work out, Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu has a bright future as a life coach.
Or maybe he should put together a new venture. Instead of Cameo, where you can hire celebrities to record shout-outs, Dosunmu could call Illinois fans and try to cheer them up.
After a crushing 71-58 loss to Loyola on Sunday, Dosunmu reminded everyone in Illini Nation the sun will come out tomorrow.
"At times like this, I try to think of the positive," he said. "It's easier to think about these last 40 minutes, how we didn't play how we wanted to play. But I try to focus on the thousands, the millions of hours with my teammates. All the adversity we overcame. This group of guys, there's no other team I want to go to war with."
When the final buzzer sounded and Loyola began the celebration, Dosunmu could be seen hugging and high-fiving teammates, trying to pick them up after a rough end to the season for a No. 1 seed.
"Now that it's over, I'm not sad," he said. "I'm looking at it as I'm enjoying all the good times we had. I'm trying to think about all the great times that we got together as a team, all the tough practices we had.
"I'm thinking about the whole time at Illinois. The score didn't show it, but I love my guys. I love this program, I love everything about it."
Dosunmu is a junior, but this was almost certainly his final game for the Illini. Named National Player of the Year by USA Today, the Morgan Park High School grad is projected as a mid-to-late first-round NBA draft pick.
Illini coach Brad Underwood acknowledged Dosunmu's pending departure and suggested his jersey will hang in the rafters someday.
One of the biggest factors in the game was how Loyola aggressively trapped Dosunmu off screens and the Illini never figured out an answer. The 6-foot-3 guard finished with 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 6 turnovers and shot 4 of 10 from the field.
None of the other Illinois guards could pick up enough of the slack. Senior Trent Frazier hit just 1 of 10 shots for 2 points. Adam Miller scored 10, while fellow freshman Andre Curbelo added 9. Sophomore center Kofi Cockburn led the Illini with 21 points and 9 rebounds.
"We tried putting Ayo in shakes to get him going," Underwood said. "We tried establishing Kofi. We didn't go early enough to Kofi, I thought we missed him. When we did go to him early, he missed three or four. But we tried everything in the bag, everything that's made us one of the most efficient offensive teams today.
"Just for whatever reason, didn't work. Trent goes 1-for-10 and he's been playing great. You can't turn it over 17 times in an NCAA Tournament game against a good team and expect to win. Turnovers were the undoing."
Illinois never led in the game, falling behind 19-9 and facing an uphill struggle the rest of the way. There were only a couple of times when the Illini even threatened to gain momentum.
After a slow start, Cockburn scored the final 5 points of the first half to trim the deficit to 33-24. Dosunmu then opened the second half with a driving layup to cut it to 7. Later on, a Curbelo steal led to a Dosunmu 3-pointer to make it 42-36 with 13:12 left. But it never got any closer as Loyola answered with a 7-0 run while senior center Cameron Krutwig was on the bench.
Underwood talked about the challenges of dealing with the Ramblers' versatile center from Jacobs High School. The Illini's fourth-year head coach said the plan was to live with Krutwig's scoring and try not to get burned by his passing.
"With Krutwig, it gets hard to take anything away because he can play at the top of the key, he's got an unlimited dribble and as soon as you run somebody at him, he dices you with the pass," Underwood said. "They're a hard guard. They've got very skilled guys who are very well-schooled in what they're doing. They hurt us with it today."
It's hard to say what the Illini will look like next year, although they figure to build around Cockburn, Curbelo and Miller. This was the school's first NCAA appearance since 2013.
"I think we've brought Illinois back and it's been a resurrection of sorts and this team has achieved a great deal," Underwood said. "I'm truly sad that today wasn't our day."
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