STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ayo Dosunmu felt well enough during warm-ups to return to lineup. That was enough for Illinois against No. 9 Penn State.
Dosunmu, the Fighting Illini’s leading scorer who missed the previous game with a knee injury, scored 24 points, and Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak with a 62-56 victory over Penn State on Tuesday night.
“He knows we struggled without him,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He did what really, really good players do. He elevated his game.”
Kofi Cockburn added 14 points for the Fighting Illini (17-9, 9-6 Big Ten), who led most of the way and ended Penn State’s eight-game winning streak.
The win also snapped Illinois’ six-game losing streak against Penn State.
Lamar Stevens scored 13 points for the Nittany Lions (20-6, 10-5), who entered with their highest ranking in the AP Top 25 since they were No. 9 at the same point of the 1996 season.
Izaiah Brockington added 10 points for the Nittany Lions, who trailed 30-26 at halftime and by as many as nine points with 5:35 to play.
Penn State got a pair of free throws from Seth Lundy that cut its deficit to 58-56 with a minute left, but Dosunmu iced it with a layup 30 seconds later.
The Nittany Lions made just 21 of 58 shots, well below their 45% average. Penn State shooters made just 4 of 19 3-pointers.
“We haven’t shot this poorly the way we’ve been playing,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Obviously, that was shocking to me.”
It was back-and-forth early as teams swapped the lead five times in the first. The Illini controlled play for 9:06 and Griffin gave them their biggest lead of the half when he hit a 3-pointer, drew a foul and hit the ensuing free throw to put the Illini up 21-16 with 8:54 before halftime.
Penn State used an 8-1 run, capped by a steal and dunk by Lundy, to retake the lead 4:22 later.
But Illinois got eight straight points from Dosunmu before a put-back by Giorgi Bezhanishvili to go up 30-26 at the break.
“This is definitely a reality check,” Penn State guard Myles Dread said. “We’ve been on cloud nine for eight games. As good as it feels to win, it feels much worse to lose.”
EXHALE AND EXALT
Illinois players hooted, shrieked and hollered as they filed off the court and into the Bryce Jordan Center’s visiting locker room.
The celebration continued when Underwood and the rest of the coaches entered. They praised their team’s resilience and highlighted Da’Monte Williams’ defensive efforts against Stevens, who was 3 for 11 from the floor.
“We had won seven in a row and you become the hunted,” Underwood said. “We’re not desperate. I think there was some urgency, but desperate is never in my vocabulary.”
Watkins picked up a technical foul for shoving Dosunmu shortly after the whistle as both had been jostling for a loose ball.
Watkins’ temper had been rising in the moments leading up to their confrontation. Penn State’s big forward was surly after he had drawn physical coverage down low on his previous two shot attempts and failed to get foul calls
The sequence drew the ire of Penn State fans who booed the officiating crew as they disappeared into the tunnel for halftime and again when they emerged for the second half.
THE BIG PICTURE
Illinois: For the Illini, getting Dosunmu back certainly helped. The sophomore guard had missed Saturday’s loss at Rutgers after suffering an injury to his left knee is a win over Michigan State on Feb. 11. Despite their recent shooting woes, they looked confident against a strong Penn State defense that’s been nearly flawless at home.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions entered a game behind Maryland in the hunt for the Big Ten’s top seed. There’s still plenty of time for them to recover and make up ground.
Illinois: Hosts Nebraska on Monday.
Penn State: Visits Indiana on Sunday.