CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood forestalled any questions about Ayo Dosunmu’s injury status during Friday morning’s Zoom call — his second in the span of 12 hours after Thursday night’s 86-70 win against Nebraska.
“Before I get asked, Ayo’s situation is no different than it was (Thursday) night,” Underwood said. “There’s no need to continue to beat that up. We’ll always do what’s in the best interest of that young man and his career and our team.”
Whether Dosunmu will even travel to Madison, Wis., for No. 5 Illinois’ 1 p.m. tip on Saturday at No. 23 Wisconsin had not yet been determined late Friday morning. That decision, Underwood said, would be made in concert with the team doctors.
Dosunmu suffered a facial injury during Tuesday night’s 81-72 loss at Michigan State when he was on the receiving end of an ejection-worthy blow by the Spartans’ Mady Sissoko. The Illinois guard did not play Thursday against Nebraska, and there is no clear timetable for his return.
Illinois (17-6, 13-4 Big Ten) still managed to find a way to win without Dosunmu on Thursday. Kofi Cockburn led the way with 24 points and seven rebounds while two Illini freshmen stepped into bigger roles.
Adam Miller scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half. Andre Curbelo nearly joined Dosunmu among the triple-double ranks with 10 points, 12 rebounds (a career high) and eight assists.
“Really proud of our freshmen (Thursday) night,” Underwood said. “I thought on a Senior Night it was very nice to see two freshmen really play well. Kind of come out of a shell, so to speak. I think we see that those guys can be alphas. They can be Batman.”
Curbelo and Miller had been in more Robin-like situations this season with Dosunmu filling the Batman role for Illinois. The start of Thursday’s game against Nebraska was a bit disjointed as players filled new roles with Dosunmu sidelined, but the Illini were able to settle in and still scored 86 points despite shooting 4 of 23 from three-point range.
“It was just different,” Underwood said about playing without Dosunmu. “Sometimes when you get difference you get just a little bit out of sync and out of rhythm. Yet, we had some incredible possessions. I mean, incredible, and there was no reward at the end because we didn’t score. Yet, I was ecstatic by our ball movement and our flow and our driving. The ball never stuck.
“Then we would miss a three. It’s that little bit of uncertainty. I thought we played better in the second half in terms of understanding where shots were coming. That was just a common sense thing that I knew we would be out of sorts. We’ll be through that pretty quick.”