IU again has the tough task of trying to contain Ayo Dosunmu

As Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu described his cat-and-mouse game with Indiana, there were only two possibilities for how he perceived himself in that story.

Dosunmu was a very elusive mouse, toying with the Hoosiers as he came around ball screens at the top of the key. Or, he was a very well-fed feline, making the IU defense his prey as he went for 20 second-half points in a 69-60 win.

“Just playing a mind game with ’em,” Dosunmu said after that Dec. 26 contest. “I watch a lot of film. A lot of film of them. I knew when the game gets long, the duration of the game increases, their tendencies get lazy, so I just wanted to attack on that.”

A lot has happened since the Hoosiers dropped that game, falling to 0-2 in conference play. But as IU (9-7, 4-5 Big Ten) meets with Dosunmu and the No. 12 Illini again, this time for a 9 p.m. tipoff Tuesday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, how the Hoosiers perform in that cat-and-mouse game could make all the difference.

For the second time this conference season, they are coming off a prolonged pause because of a postponement, again triggered by COVID-19 issues with their opponent. The first time around, IU took advantage of that time to reassert themselves on the defensive end, going on the road and shocking then-No. 4 Iowa.

But IU’s defense, especially on the perimeter, took a step back in the very next game versus a resurgent Rutgers squad. Geo Baker now gives way to Dosunmu, who comes to Bloomington confident. He just scored 25 points in Illinois’ own win over Iowa, hitting 11-of-18 from the floor and 3-of-3 from 3-point range.

“It’s just a team effort with him,” IU junior Rob Phinisee said. “He’s a really good player. He can score from all three level. Really, we just have to impact the ball screens, keep a tight floor, and stay with the pack-line defense.”

IU’s defense wasn’t the only priority as the Hoosiers went into a nine-day break, especially considering it was nine second-half turnovers that spoiled the day versus Rutgers. Against Illinois, the Hoosiers only turned it over eight times the entire game.

Midway through the second half at Illinois, IU had a five-point lead. But then the Hoosiers watched as Dosunmu put up 11 quick points during a 14-0 Illini run. He credited it to reading IU’s hedging action on ball screens, working off passes to the corner that he made earlier in the contest.

“I was making the right play like six, seven times in a row so their big started getting lazy, started getting complacent,” Dosunmu said postgame. “At the nine-minute, 10-minute mark, I knew that they were thinking ‘Alright, well, when Ayo comes to this ball screen, he’s gonna hit the corner,’ and then I saw Trayce Jackson-Davis coming and leaving right away.”

The first time IU’s hedge went soft, it was freshman Jordan Geronimo who dropped and helped provide the alley for Dosunmu to drive the lane for a layup. That was a bit of a spark, as a block by Kofi Cockburn immediately led to a transition 3 from Dosunmu, which gave Illinois a 51-49 lead. Dosunmu was later able to get a runner off in the lane after Jackson-Davis dropped off on a hedge.

IU was able to keep it close, down just five with under two minutes left. But Dosunmu, dribbling at the top of the key, went right around a screen from Cockburn, and Jackson-Davis didn’t hedge. Armaan Franklin retreated. Dosunmu kicked to Da’Monte Williams in the corner, who had Race Thompson flying in the air on a pump fake.

Williams popped it back to Dosunmu on the wing. He’d lost Franklin, who was caught on Williams’ drive. Dosunmu buried a 3-pointer to push it back to 65-57.

“Preparing to play against Illinois, you have to be smart,” IU coach Archie Miller said Monday. “Ayo’s a guy that can really hit you up a lot of different ways. There’s no single way you can hone in on him. He’s great in transition. He shoots the ball extremely well in transition. In the half-court, with his size and athleticism and talent, he gets to the basket when he wants. And he’s a good reader of the defense. He makes good plays.

“He knows how teams are playing him and their spacing is one of which he knows exactly where his reads are to make his outlets and his passes. He’s tough to contain.”

Dosunmu’s 30-point effort was one of many factors against IU in a tough early-season loss. What may have been just as important was Jackson-Davis’ 3-of-13 performance from the field. As Miller said Monday, offensive consistency is just as important for the Hoosiers right now. They can’t turn it over. They have to keep someone like Jackson-Davis consistently involved.

But if they are going to avoid a third home loss in a row — dating back to an 81-69 point defeat at the hands of Purdue — locking down on Dosunmu will be crucial.

“From a practice standpoint, we’re continuing to try and hone in on our fundamentals defensively,” Miller said. “We had a great opportunity against Iowa, played extremely hard. It wasn’t the same against Rutgers. I think consistency is a big thing. And our effort level just hasn’t been as consistent on that end of the floor. That’s something as we head into February with a lot of games left, we are going to have to be better on that end.”

One comment

  1. That corner coverage. The IU Women kept collapsing into the paint area last night. Finally MS starting missing the corner shots, hence the IU win. Same with the men’s game, fudging corner coverage which works if the opposing team misses the corner shots but otherwise is a momentum killer.

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