MADISON (WCIA) — With their All-American on the bench for the second straight game, the Illini showed they can still win without their best player on the court.
“We had to come together even more knowing Ayo was down, get even more connected together,” says Illini senior Da’Monte Williams.
Beating last place Nebraska at home without Dosunmu was one thing, but walking out of the Kohl Center with a win against 23rd ranked Wisconsin means more to Illinois head coach Brad Underwood, both for this season and the future.
“You know you’re without Ayo and you’re going on the road to a place against a great team, a Top-25 team, it’s been an emotional week and it’s been a hard week and so these two games,” says Underwood. “I’m not going to lie, they’re right up there in terms of being so excited and so proud of what we’re building.”
“I mean we all fighters and coach is a fighter too and he’s on us all the time and we just come together and do it for the man to the right and left of us,” says Williams.
And that fight is exactly what the Illini had to do at the end. Williams made a jumper in the final minutes to extend the Illini lead to six, while scoring 12 for the night on 6-for-9 shooting. But after the Badgers started the game 1-for-15 from the field, they came alive late, putting a scare into Illinois. D’Mitrik Trice scored 21 points the final 5 minutes, including five three-pointers, cutting a 13-point lead down to just one.
“You really just beg for one miss and we didn’t get it,” says Underwood. “One miss changes the whole complexion, the whole flow, the whole momentum and you give him a lot of credit.”
The Illini deserve plenty of credit for stepping up, they went 10-for-10 from the free throw line, in the final 44 seconds of the game. The line hasn’t always been a strength for this team, but it won the game in Madison. After three games in five days, the Illini finally have a small chance to breath before heading to Big Ten front runner Michigan on Tuesday.