Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Illinois Fighting Illini were in a contested game with under 2 minutes to go until Ayo Dosunmu stepped up and delivered precision strikes to the heart of their opponent.
Tonight’s victim was a scrappy Northwestern squad looking to earn their first road win over an AP Top 5 team and their first win in twelve games. After a poor shooting first half, some hustle taking advantage of a litany of Illini turnovers allowed the Wildcats to close all the way to within one point with just over four minutes to go. Ayo immediately answered with just his third field goal of the game to give him seven points.
The shootout continued until Illinois clung to a two-point lead with under 2 minutes to go. Ayo drained a three on the ensuing possession, then swished another after Chase Audige, mistakenly thinking this was a duel and not an assassination, clanged a heat check three.
Change the opponent, the venue, the type of shot Ayo takes, the NPC’s that can only helplessly witness their own ruin, and you have a good chance at having the story copy for Illinois’ next game written.
2021 Nebraska: Another scrappy team punching above their weight trying to end a horrifying losing streak, Nebraska found an Illinois scoring drought for 5 of the final 8 minutes and built a 61-56 lead. Ayo scored all 10 of Illinois’ remaining points in regulation, going on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 66. This ran all the way up to an 11-0 run in OT, as Ayo scored 15 straight and 17 of Illinois’ last 21.
2021 Indiana: Ayo takes a 51-49 lead for Illinois with a three pointer with 8 minutes to go. After some back and forth as Andre Curbelo makes one of two free throws, Ayo splashes threes on consecutive possessions on his way to making 16 of Illinois’ final 21 points.
2020 (November) Ohio: Ayo saves Illinois by driving the lane and drawing a foul with 2 seconds left, hitting both free throws to turn a 75-74 deficit into a 76-75 lead.
2020 Wisconsin: Illinois trails by two late until Ayo finds an open Trent Frazier for three. After Wisconsin hits two free throws to take a one point lead, Ayo takes the lead back, gets a defensive board and splashes a three to ice the game with under a minute to go.
2020 Rutgers: A rock fight produces a 46-46 tie with under a minute and a half, but Ayo makes 6 of 6 free throws and adds a layup, scoring Illinois’ final 8 points in a 54-51 win.
2020 Northwestern: Leading by three, Illinois takes the clock from 43 seconds to 18 as Ayo hits a shot to make it a two possession game. The quick three Northwestern desperately needs is there, but Ayo hits two free throws.
2020 Michigan: Tied at 62 with the shot clock off, Illinois gives the ball to Ayo and he makes the Crisler Center real quiet by hitting a long buzzer beater over Zavier Simpson.
Every Game With This Guy Though
Those were just some of the more dramatic instances of Ayo hitting the shots that matter. Important wins might not always come from Ayo taking the game over at the very end, but he’s still very involved in them. Take his triple-double in their recent win over Wisconsin and 25 against Iowa.
The key thing that let me know tonight’s game was ending the way it was, however, was that there were under two minutes to go and he was in the single digits in points. Ayo Dosunmu has not been held under 10 points since January 5th, 2020. Lest Purdue take any pride in this feat, it was in a 63-37 loss. It was the only time between this season and last that he’s been held under 9, and one of four times he was held under 10.
Illinois is 3-1 in those games, losing 59-58 to then-3rd-ranked Maryland.
The Ayo Ending feels almost pre-ordained these days, but I am going to savor every moment because I’ve never seen a Big Ten player do anything like this and I’m unlikely to ever see it again.
Ayo is like when you’re in the late game stages of an RPG and your character or party has gotten so overpowered relative to what you need for the main quest that battles lose their drama and start to become exercises in comedy.
If Ayo Dosunmu were a race car, we wouldn’t be watching him this year because the sanctioning body would have banned the use of him after last year for competitive balance purposes.
If he were a character in a fighting video game, serious gamers would look down on people who used such an obviously game-breaking character.
I could have written this article after last season ended with the expectation that he’d be on to the pros, but because he’s so obviously the player character in the video game that is real life, his player has chosen the “return to campus for one more year” option on Campus Legend mode.
We are all just NPCs.