ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ayo Dosunmu tried a hesitation dribble first. Zavier Simpson stuck to him. A crossover produced the same result.
Dosunmu couldn’t shake the Michigan guard.
So with time slipping off the clock, Dosunmu made the simple decision. The 6-foot-5 Illinois guard got to his spot at 15 feet, shot faked left to get Simpson leaning and then elevated over the smaller guard.
Dosunmu delivered — again — with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. The five-tenths of a second he left Michigan weren’t nearly enough.
Simpson’s reaction was all you had to watch. A visible sigh. Hands on his hips. A golden opportunity for Michigan to snap its three-game losing streak gone in a 64-62 Illinois victory in front of 12,707 fans at Crisler Center that went from fever pitch to headed to the exits in the 1 1 / 2 seconds it took for Dosunmu to deliver another game-winner.
“I’m running out of adjectives to talk about Ayo,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s what great players do. That last play was guarded as well as you could possibly guard it. It was a really good player making a really hard shot. We were playing for the last shot, and Ayo knocked that down and got what we needed. I’m glad he’s in our uniform and on our team.”
There wasn’t much discussion amongst the Illinois coaching staff during the timeout the Illini called with 24 seconds to play, with the score tied at 62. Underwood said they thought about running a player through a screen or trying to slip it. In the end, Underwood opted to put the ball in Dosunmu’s hands and let him play.
The only directive? Make a move with six seconds on the clock.
“He believed I was going to make the right play,” Dosunmu said of his coach. “Simpson, he played great defense. He couldn’t have guarded that any better, but I got to my pull-up — got to my move — and knocked it down.”
Illinois works on late-game situations regularly in practice. Of late, Dosunmu said he’s found his team down with perhaps just enough time to win it. That’s what the Illini (15-5, 7-2 Big Ten) got Saturday at Michigan (11-8, 2-6) when the Wolverines missed five straight free throws to end the game that could have sealed a win.
Dosunmu had one last opportunity and took advantage.
“I work on that move,” he said. “I work on my mid-range game every day in practice. That’s repetition. That’s hard work and dedication. When I got to my move, I was confident. I believed I was going to make the shot.”
Dosunmu said as much to fellow Illini guard Tyler Underwood on the bench during the timeout. His teammates, in turn, were confident.
“He’s made for this,” Illinois senior guard Andres Feliz said. “He has made big plays the whole year. We just had the confidence he was going to do it again. He’s one of the best players in the country right now. That’s why we put the ball in his hand when the game is so close. He practices those shots. Obviously, hard work is going to pay off.”
Dosunmu’s final two points proved rather crucial, but he was the driving force for Illinois the entire game. Another game-winner was just the finishing touches on his career high 27-point effort. Those 27 points also came by making 11 of 18 shots from the field (61 percent shooting) as Dosunmu started rolling early.
“Basketball is a rhythm thing,” Michigan sophomore guard David DeJulius said. “They put a lot of confidence in him putting the ball in his hands the whole game. We let him find a groove early, and he went with that because he had his juices flowing from the start.”
Michigan freshman guard Franz Wagner said the Wolverines’ scouting report included the fact the Illinois guards — Dosunmu in particular — liked to go to their right. Not following through on that scout even just a few times hurt Michigan’s chances.
“A couple little lapses where we forgot — I can’t really explain — but he got to the lane where he wants to go,” Wagner said. “He made some tough shots. He’s a good player. You’ve got to respect that.
“We tried everything. Great effort. I don’t think you could tell us we didn’t play hard. It just didn’t happen again. (Missed) free throws and a couple defensive lapses, and that’s how you lose a game like that.”
Dosunmu’s game-winner against Michigan was the latest in what’s becoming a rather extensive list of late big shots for the 20-year-old sophomore. He had two last season — one during Illinois’ home upset of Michigan State and the other during the team’s lone Big Ten road win at Ohio State. This season’s wins at Wisconsin and at home against Rutgers and Northwestern had Dosunmu’s fingerprints all over them in the closing minutes, too.
“It’s a God-given ability,” Underwood said. “Ayo has that. He has a sense about him. The great ones have that. Maybe some others don’t, but he sure has it.”