With three-and-a-half minutes to go against No. 6 Illinois in Lincoln on Feb. 12, Nebraska led the Illini 61-56. The Huskers had just put together a 9-0 run to pull ahead and upset alert alarms were sounding all over Twitter.
Then Ayo Dosunmu took over, scoring Illinois’ last 10 points of regulation to send the game to overtime. He scored the first five points of overtime as well and the Illini never trailed on overtime, pulling out a 77-72 win. Nebraska had no answer for him.
Dosunmu finished with 31 points, six assists and four steals in that game. He’s been one of the best players in the country all season. He also won’t be in uniform when the Huskers take the court against the fifth-ranked Illini in Champaign on Thursday night.
Dosunmu suffered a facial injury in Illinois’ loss to Michigan State on Tuesday and Illinois released a statement saying Dosunmu would not play against the Huskers.
Even without the team’s best player, Brad Underwood’s squad has plenty of firepower, starting with sophomore center Kofi Kockburn. The Huskers did a great job of limiting his touches and making the 7-footer work for everything he got and he still finished with 21 points on 7-of-8 from the field and 7-of-12 from the free-throw line with 13 rebounds.
Senior guard Trent Frazier has played a lot of basketball in his four years in Champaign and is the team’s most dangerous 3-point shooter, converting 40.2% of his 5.3 attempts per game. He’s averaging 10.8 points and 2.6 assists while taking on the toughest defensive backcourt assignment most nights.
Dosunmu’s absence likely means an expanded role for freshman Andre Curbelo, a creative point guard averaging 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in just under 20 minutes per game off the bench.
Frazier led the Illini (16-6, 12-4 Big Ten) with 22 points and Curbelo chipped in 12 points off the bench against Michigan State as Dosunmu struggled a bit with 17 points on 6-of-18 from the field and 4-of-8 from the line.
Nebraska is coming off an 86-83 home loss to Penn State on Tuesday during which Teddy Allen went off for 41 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Allen was Nebraska’s best offensive option in the first game against Illinois, finishing with 15 points, but the Illini really keyed in on him during overtime and he couldn’t get any shots to fall. The Huskers will need better offensive balance to keep up with the Illini, even without Dosunmu.
One player who has struggled more than others recently is Dalano Banton, the 6-foot-9 sophomore point guard who has scored two points in his last two games combined. Since the return from Nebraska’s COVID-19 pause, he’s averaged 6.2 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 turnovers while shooting 32.8% from the field. In the first game against Illinois, he scored five points and shot 1-of-6 from the foul line.
Banton played a season-low 13 minutes against Penn State, missing both of his shots and turning the ball over three times.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to get him going,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said on Tuesday. “He’s an important part of this team. He’s an important part of what we do. … We’ll try to get him going in the next one. When he plays well, we’re in the game.”
Tipoff on Thursday is set for 6 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Brandon Gaudin and Stephen Bardo on the call.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.