PISCATAWAY, NJ. (WCIA) — Down two points at half, Illinois was in position after 20 minutes at Rutgers Saturday afternoon, despite not having its best player on the court. Ayo Dosunmu sat on the bench in street clothes with a knee injury, just his second career missed game. The sophomore couldn’t do anything but watch the Scarlet Knights hold his Illini to just 27 percent shooting in the second half, 31 percent for the game, as Rutgers ran away with a 72-57 win.
The Illini (16-9, 8-6 B1G) never led in the second half but had it down to a one-point game with 15:19 to play when the Scarlet Knights (18-8, 9-6) went on an 11-0 run to take control. Rutgers never trailed by fewer than seven points the rest of the way, with the lead ballooning up to 20 late in the game.
Ron Harper Jr. scored a game high 27 points, as Rutgers improved to 17-0 at home this season. Geo Baker, who didn’t play in the first meeting between these two teams a month ago, scored 12 points, along with Akwasi Yeboah.
“He (Baker) was three of his last 18 coming in, from the three,” Underwood said. “Sometimes guys get in a little funk and you maybe don’t put as much pressure on them and short close out and he got going early. Thought he was sensational.”
Illinois got a team high 14 points from Alan Griffin, who started in place of Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Andres Feliz and Kofi Cockburn each added 10 points for the Illini, who dropped their third straight game.
“Just letting him settle down and see the game from the bench, just to start the game,” Underwood added. “He (Giorgi) had a great week of practice so we thought it was just, ‘Okay let’s just let him evaluate the game, see how the games going.”
It was the first game without Ayo Dosunmu this season. The sophomore guard was a game-time decision but came out of the locker room in sweats while his teammates were warming up before the game.
“When Ayo doesn’t play, guys just have to chip in a little bit extra,” Illinois freshman center Kofi Cockburn said. “Guys have to rebound a little bit more, guys have to make sure they elevate each other, make the extra pass. Ayo is a great piece to us but I think we still have enough tools around us to be successful.”
The Illini are flying home Saturday night but they’ll be right back on a plane Monday when they travel to Penn State for a showdown with Nittany Lions on Tuesday.