Spotlight still shining on Bezhanishvili, Dosunmu

Spotlight still shining on Bezhanishvili, Dosunmu

CHAMPAIGN — Giorgi Bezhanishvili has regularly downplayed his own individual accomplishments in favor of what his teammates have done this season. Even more so if a big game for the Illinois freshman forward came in an Illini loss.

The spotlight has lingered a little longer on Bezhanishvili in the last few days. A record-setting 35-point performance in Illinois' 99-94 overtime victory at home against Rutgers on Saturday drew it. Earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors Monday — while fellow freshman Ayo Dosunmu was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week — meant it stuck around.

Even in the immediate aftermath of becoming Illinois' new freshman single-game scoring leader, though, Bezhanishvili had already turned his attention to what was next. Team first — always.

"I actually didn't know about the record," Bezhanishvili said. The former record holder, Deon Thomas, told him after the game. "It just happened. I was just feeling good playing basketball. It's a great feeling, but that's not what it's about. We're trying to get focused on the next game — Ohio State — and keep growing.

"We did a couple of bad things (against Rutgers), some good things, but at the end of the day we got a win. We're happy about it, but we've just got to move on. Ohio State is next. We're hungry for them."

Bezhanishvili and Dosunmu sweeping the weekly Big Ten honors made some history. It was both the first time Illinois claimed both awards in a single week and also the first time a team had two freshmen do so.

"Both of these guys, them fulfilling their role and having to step up a little bit more than freshmen would usually have to is incredible," Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier said. "They're doing an unbelievable job."

Bezhanishvili averaged 25.5 points and six rebounds while shooting 69 percent from the field in Illinois' wins against then-No. 9 Michigan State and Rutgers last week. His career-high scoring effort, which was boosted by 29 points in the second half and overtime, was the most points by an Illini since Malcolm Hill dropped 40 on Northern Kentucky on Nov. 13, 2016. That performance earned Hill Big Ten Player of the Week honors a day later — the last time an Illinois player took home that particular award.

Dosunmu averaged 18 points, four assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in Illinois' wins against Michigan State and Rutgers to claim Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. He had a game-high 24 points in the upset win against the Spartans and was 8 of 14 from the field, including 4 of 8 three-point shooting. Two of those three-pointers came in the final 2 1 / 2 minutes to help Illinois put away Michigan State.

"You've got to have the IQ," Dosunmu said about his late-game play against the Spartans. "Youv'e got to have feel. The bond I have with (Illinois coach Brad Underwood), I know he trusts me, so I just play freely and go off my instincts."

Dosunmu had 12 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals in Saturday's win against Rutgers to put the finishing touches on his first Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. The 6-foot-5 guard is the first Illini to win that honor since Frazier claimed it in February 2018.

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