Illinois coach Brad Underwood said he likes the no-fear attitude that sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu has cultivated this season.
Dosunmu’s effort was critical on Wednesday when the Illini needed a clutch basket most.
Dosunmu scored a team-high 18 points — including a 3-pointer with 46 seconds left — to rally Illinois to a 71-70 Big Ten Conference victory over Wisconsin.
“He’s got what you don’t coach,” Underwood said of Dosunmu, who scored the final five points for Illinois and finished 7-of-15 shooting.
“He’s not afraid, he’s fearless and he’s very, very poised. It takes a certain type of guy to want the ball in those situations and not fear the miss,” he said.
The victory not only gave the Illini (11-5, 3-2) their first league road win of the season, it also snapped a 15-game winning streak against the Badgers that dated to 2011.
Freshman 7-footer Kofi Cockburn scored 15 points and reserve guard Alan Griffin added 12, including 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
Griffin, who played limited minutes due to foul trouble said Dosunmu’s late-game confidence sparked his Illini teammates. Dosunmu also had six assists.
“He was really locked in,” Griffin said. “Everyone was locked in trying to win, even though we were down at one point. It was nice to see ‘Ayo’ get that shot.”
Kobe King scored a game-high 21 points for Wisconsin (9-6, 2-3), which had its four-game winning streak snapped.
King drained a 3 with 22 seconds left to pull Wisconsin to 71-70, but when the Badgers got the ball back after a missed free throw by Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili, D’Mitrik Trice missed a go-ahead bucket with three seconds left.
Micah Potter scored 13 points with nine rebounds and two blocks for Wisconsin. Potter, an Ohio State transfer playing in his fourth game since his eligibility began in late December, made all eight of his foul shots.
The teams traded the lead 10 times in the first half, until Potter and King collaborated during a 9-1 Wisconsin run — capped by a King 3-pointer — that extended the Badgers’ lead to 28-21 with 3:57 before halftime.
King, who was 8-of-11 shooting, delivered eight of the Badgers’ first nine points to open the second half.
Illinois pulled within 54-52 with 9:50 left on a dunk by Cockburn, who picked up his fourth foul 17 seconds later.
The Badgers maintained a slim lead late in the second half, but didn’t score a basket for nearly two minutes. The Illini tied the game at 63 on back-to-back 3s by Griffin with 3:22 left.
Griffin played a limited 18 minutes due to picking up three of four fouls in the second half. He said no matter how many minutes he’s on the floor, contributions are important.
“If you’re ready, you’re going to make those tough shots,” Griffin said. “My confidence has grown from last year. I can see myself in those positions this year.”
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said the Badgers’ performance on defense faltered in the second half.
“The offense wasn’t the problem, it was the other end of the floor,” Gard said.
“We allowed them to be very comfortable (shooting), specifically in the second half. That’s been very uncharacteristic for us throughout the year.”
The victory marked the first against Wisconsin during Underwood’s five-year tenure, but the head coach said that he was more concerned with attaining a Big Ten road win.
“It’s the best conference in the country and to get a road win, that’s what means the most for this group,” Underwood said.
Illinois: Not only do the Illini starters have speed, their inside game is particularly strong with Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. The Illini finished with 30 points in the paint against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin: The Badgers entered Wednesday’s game with shooting 77.7% from the free-throw line, which leads the Big Ten. Junior guard Brad Davison has only missed five free-throw attempts (28 of 32).
Illinois plays Rutgers at home Saturday. The Illini have won three consecutive in the series, including a six-point overtime victory in Champaign last season.
Wisconsin heads on the road to face No. 20 Penn State on Saturday.