Long Live The King

Feb 17, 2021

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This season is strange. No fans in the stands. Coaches wearing masks. (Sorry, coaches "wearing" "masks".) Nothing is normal.

Well, one thing is normal. In fact, it's a return to normal. An Illini superstar hitting daggers and a Northwestern bench guy with no choice but to sit down and shut up. Let me tell you the story.

First off, we need to start in the first half. Ayo hit a baseline jumper in front of the Northwestern bench, and as he shot it - remember, you can hear everything without fans - I heard one of the Northwestern bench guys yell something at him. Ayo hit the shot, turned to the Northwestern bench, and stared at them.

After the game, I asked Ayo what they said. He said that after he shot it, the guy yelled "it's off, it's off". And so when it wasn't "off", he gave the guy a glance. Alright, a stare. Fine - he melted the guy's soul.

You see, this is a Northwestern bench guy - maybe even a walkon - telling the player who might be the national player of the year "it's off" when his shot is in the air. How can anyone be that brazen? I'm reminded of Omar in season one of The Wire: "You come at the king, you best not miss".

I mean, just think about that. You're a walkon (or maybe even a scholarship player!) at Northwestern - you know, the team that has lost 12 in a row - and you feel bold enough to try to get in Ayo Dosunmu's head. His teammates had to tell him to sit down and shut up, right? Well, maybe they didn't. Northwestern.

The game plays out. Illinois is up 18 in the first half, but Kofi gets in foul trouble. Northwestern cuts it to 12 at halftime. Then they hit four quick threes to open the second half and cut the lead to four. The Illini push it back to 12, Northwestern goes on a run to cut it to three. Then this play to cut the lead to one:

If you notice in the background there, one of the Northwestern bench guys - maybe he's a walkon, maybe he's even a scholarship player - went a little nuts over the sky hook to cut the lead to one.

Here - I'll just window our friend:

I don't know if this guy was the one who yelled "it's off it's off" in the first half. I want to think it was him - I FEEL like the guy who did things like ~that~ over there in the corner the entire night would be the one who would feel bold enough to yell at the best player in the Big Ten from his lofty perch {checks notes} on the Northwestern bench - but there's no way of knowing who yelled at Ayo.

After Northwestern cut it to one, Ayo hit a long jumper to immediately put the Illini back up by three. Northwestern missed back to back threes, Da'Monte hit one of two free throws one possession and then scored on a great feed from Curbelo the next possession and Illinois is back up six with 2:30 to go. But then Chase Audige hits back to back jumpers and the lead is cut to two again. Two point lead, 1:30 remaining, who do you think is going to have the ball in his hands?

Ayo hits a three (of course he did) to put Illinois up five. Audige immediately tries to match the three and misses. Illinois comes back down the court with the ball, a five-point lead, and the clock under a minute. One more shot should just about do it.

Guess who?

Did you catch it? Did you see it there at the very end? It's the reason I told this entire story. Did you see our friend?

Here, I'll do this next gif in slow-motion so you can see our friend.

Close the door. Have a seat.

I'm not sure if there's many things more satisfying than that. As I tweeted during the game, after Northwestern cut it to one, I went up to the top of the media section so I could stand and watch (and pace). I just can't sit still at times like that. So while I'm normally looking right down the sideline where both benches are located, in my "pacing" spot I'm over by the opposite sideline looking at the basket from the other side.

Which means that my line of vision is Ayo releasing the three with the Northwestern bench guys just above his head. Draw a line from me through Ayo to our friend. What did I see? I'll just say that I've never seen a group of excitable kids get so dejected so quickly. From weird, spazzy hook-shot motions to absolute shoulder-slumped dejection.

The guy who yelled "it's off it's off" - how did he feel at that moment? Has anyone ever felt as foolish as that guy in that moment? You think you're going to get in Ayo's head, you brazenly tell him his shot is off, your team cuts the lead to one and you're thinking you might actually come back and win this, and then the guy whose shot is "off" drops two dagger threes on your head, the second one from Rantoul.

Which is why that slow-motion gif above is everything. The smile on Ayo's face. The guy who had just been celebrating like a maniac sitting down to his team's 12th consecutive loss. The Illini have now won six straight over Northwestern, a streak hopefully on it's way to 30.

Are there things to worry about for Illini fans? Of course! We just played the two worst teams in the Big Ten. One we trailed by six with 2:40 remaining before sending it to overtime and winning in OT. The other one we led by 18, let them cut it to 1, and needed Ayo to bail us out for a second consecutive game. I'm headed to Minnesota on Saturday and I'm in no way confident about Illinois coming away with a win. Five of our last six are on the road, with three of those teams in the top-25, so things are going to get crazy tough from here on out.

But we can talk about that later this week. For now, I want to bask in the glow of two (TWO!) more shots in the Late Game Ayo file. He's truly the King Of Crunchtime, and just like the Michigan State game in 2019 (the Dan Dakich "this won't end well for Illinois" game), Ayo hit two late threes to put the game away. Over and over and over, he gets it done.

Which is what makes "it's off it's off" so unbelievable. Why would you POSSIBLY agitate Ayo Dosunmu? Do you not understand that he's the king?

Long may he reign.


Football54 on February 17, 2021 @ 02:20 AM

Long live the king!

ClassOfDeeDeronJames on February 17, 2021 @ 05:23 AM

The undisputed #1 closer in college basketball plays for our team and man is it a joy to watch! Great work as always Robert.

illinizeeman on February 17, 2021 @ 05:42 AM


Alaskan Illini on February 17, 2021 @ 05:57 AM

Robert, kinda brings to mind another Dweezil moment that had required a basketball nobody to eat his actions, eh? Where are you now, Mr. Freshman Walk-on REM Bakamus?

He actually played all 4 years at Gonzaga, was on the National Championship squad in 2017, and is now a grad assistant at Baylor. (Yeah, I had to look it up . . . ) enter image description here

Giovantischixstripz on February 17, 2021 @ 07:17 AM

I love walk ons acting like idiots on the bench and getting chirpy despite having no rational reason, it's their job. That and getting dunked on in practice. Lieb seems to bring that goofy energy for us, or at least that is who the cameras always show.

MinnIllini on February 17, 2021 @ 08:56 AM

Satisfying moment indeed to shut the Nerds up like that. I don’t blame any of them for acting a fool though. This season the bench IS the crowd. They are cheering for their team. Here’s to many more years of shutting them up.

Dr. Chim Richalds on February 17, 2021 @ 09:08 AM

Agreed on all counts - I'm all for the bench getting crazy and having fun. And it still feels great to shut them up when they're on the other bench hoping for a top-5 upset.

Dman68 on February 17, 2021 @ 10:53 AM

Now if we can just shut the NUrds up in football. I am sick of seeing our version of TTUN owning us.

skibdaddy on February 17, 2021 @ 11:45 AM

Great reporting Robert! That's why we pay you the big bucks.

Just another reason to enjoy having Ayo on our team... It seems like the great ones always step up against trash talk... and Ayo is one of the great ones!

orangejulius on February 17, 2021 @ 11:56 AM

I hate everything about Northwestern. The scrub speaking out of turn is just part of that overall smugness and air of superiority, lacking self-awareness of their history of losing. It's always great to beat them.

Dman68 on February 17, 2021 @ 01:40 PM

The self-declaration of being Chicago's Big Ten Team is bad enough. Back in 2017 when the NUrds finally made the NCAA tourney, a selection show party was held at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The P.A. welcomed everyone to the "First Annual Northwestern Selection Sunday Watch Party" That statement alone sums up their arrogance to me. Darn, I wanted to attend the second, third, and fourth annual parties.

wesd2005 on February 17, 2021 @ 07:48 PM

I like to think that the only reason Northwestern got back in the game last night was to give Ayo another chance to have a moment. Not that it was done intentionally - just fate to give Ayo more ammo for player of the year honors. The way the game was headed early, we may have cruised to a 20+ point victory with him scoring in single digits - better for the team but worse for the narrative of him winning Big Ten or National player of the year.

HNLINI on February 17, 2021 @ 08:18 PM

Watching Ayo develop over the past three years makes me wonder about what the current coaching staff could have done with Malcolm Hill. It seemed like in close games for most of the Groce era, Malcolm was always the one who was going to take "the shot" but we invariably failed to put him in position to even attempt it. With Ayo, it seems like he always gets the ball in a position to get to his spots (obviously, part of that is due to Ayo).

Giovantischixstripz on February 17, 2021 @ 08:26 PM

Quality of the teammates makes all the difference too. Ayo gets the ball a TON at the end, but he also has made opponents pay by not staying honest on other players. Damonte, Jacob, and Trent off the top of my head have hit huge 3s late off Ayo dishes when he gets helped on, and Kofi has gotten some exclamation point dunks as well.

Malcolm deserved so much better, the other team just knew no one else was going to beat them, and Groce wasn't consistently going to draw something up to free Malcolm in a good spot.

HNLINI on February 18, 2021 @ 03:02 AM

Agree. Easier to space the floor when surrounded by true shooting threats, and easier to free up space for a shot when the defender keeps looking over their shoulder for the pick that may or may not be coming from Kofi.

Still, Ayo is all-world in pressure situations at the college level. Always seems to make the right decision. Will be interesting to see who, if anyone, picks up the torch on next year's squad.

Giovantischixstripz on February 18, 2021 @ 02:56 PM

If he really has added the pull up 3 from 5 feet beyond the arc to his repertoire... Someone is going to get a steal

illini_dave34 on February 17, 2021 @ 08:24 PM

Long may he reign.

oldjack on February 18, 2021 @ 02:19 PM

Thanks! Nice piece.

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