CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) – Ayo Dosunmu has its place in the Illini tradition. The former Illinois All-American was back in town Thursday night to see his banner raised to the rafters, just 10 months after completing his legendary career in Orange and Blue. And his presence could have been just what the Illini needed to secure a 76-64 victory over Maryland.
“When the second half started, it crossed my mind,” said Illinois center Kofi Cockburn. “I was like ‘Ayo is hanging his banner tonight, I can’t let him hang up his jersey if he is defeated.’ It was going through my head, I was like ‘I have to do this for Ayo, I have to do this for Ayo.’ I looked at him a bit, gave him a look like ‘This is for you Ayo.’ “
“It’s crazy because it wasn’t easy,” Dosunmu said of getting there. “It was very hard, it took a lot of mental toughness. It took a lot of adversity to overcome. But to come back to it now, look how, not just me, but this whole program did it collectively to put it back. program where it belongs. I’m excited. “
The Illini (11-3, 4-0) gained up to 14 points midway through the first half before the Terps (8-6, 0-3) had a massive 27-9 run for end the half with a 34-30 lead.
Cockburn played as his preseason All-American distinction in the second half, playing all 20 minutes. The 7-footer Jamaican rebounded on his own in Maryland in the second half 15-10, and scored 16 of his game high, 23.
“Kofi’s second half was just dominant,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “That’s what Kofi can do.”
NBA All-Star voting leader and his Ayo Bulls teammate DeMar Derozan even showed up for the special occasion.
Illinois gave them one of their best halves of the season. Kofi’s great performance and an eight-point run from Trent Frazier were enough to propel them over the slopes.
“I mean, we’re trying to win,” said Trent Frazier, Illinois senior. “Whatever it takes to win. I tend to go on those heaters, where I feel good. I saw one come in, I saw another opportunity so I grabbed another.
“Fun night, fun to be a part of it,” Underwood said of the possibility of celebrating a win and Ayo’s accomplishments. “Much love for this young man and his family.”
The Illini are now 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 2009-10 season, 11-3 overall.