CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Ayo Dosunmu has his place in Illini lore. The former Illinois All-American was back in town Thursday night to see his banner raised to the rafters, just 10 months after he capped off his legendary career in Orange and Blue. And his presence might have been just what the Illini needed to pull off the win.
“Going into the second half, it ran through my mind,” Illinois center Kofi Cockburn said. “I went, ‘Ayo’s hanging his banner tonight, I can’t let him hang his jersey on a loss.’ That was going through my mind, I was like ‘Gotta do this for Ayo, gotta do this for Ayo.’ I kinda looked at him, glanced him like ‘This is for you Ayo.'”
“It’s crazy because it wasn’t easy. It was very hard, it took a lot of mental toughness. Took a lot of adversity to overcome. But to look back at it now, look at how, not just me, but this whole program did it collectively to get this program back where it needs to be. I’m excited.”
Cockburn played like his preseason All-American accolade in the second half, playing all 20 minutes. The 7-foot Jamaican out-rebounded Maryland in the second half 15-10 by himself, and put up 16 of his game high 23.
“Kofi’s second half was just dominant,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “That’s what Kofi can do.”
NBA All-Star vote leader and Ayo’s Bulls teammate DeMar Derozan even showed up for the special occasion
Illinois treated them to one of its best halves of the whole season. Kofi’s big performance and an eight point Trent Frazier run was enough to propel them past the steeps.
“I mean, we trying to win,” Illinois senior Trent Frazier said. “Whatever it takes to win. I tend to go on those heaters, where I’m just feeling good. I seen one go in, I saw another opportunity so I took another one.”
“Fun night, fun to be a part of it,” Underwood said about being able to celebrate a win and Ayo’s accomplishments. “Lotta love for that 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.