Penn State vs. Illinois score: Ayo Dosunmu returns from knee injury, leads Illini to upset of Nittany Lions

Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak and solidified its spot in the NCAA Tournament picture with a 62-56 win on the road against No. 9 Penn State on Tuesday night. 

Ayo Dosunmu starred in his return from injury after getting hurt on the final play of Illinois’ dramatic 70-69 loss to Michigan State. Dosunmu was the best player on the floor, pouring in a game-high 24 points that included the team’s final field goal to ice the victory. It’s remarkable to think that exactly one week ago the crowd in Champaign, Illinois, was silent as Dosunmu was helped off the floor following a turnover on the team’s final offensive possession, and after some positive medical tests he was taking the biggest shots in the biggest moments. 

Prior to the game, Jerry Palm identified this as a crucial spot for Illinois to potentially move off the bubble and firmly into the field of 68 in his latest Bracketology. This is a quality win that boosts the Illini’s profile, and with Nebraska and Northwestern coming up there’s a chance to string together another mini-streak here in late February. 

Illinois brought the fight to Penn State, which entered on an eight-game winning streak, from the start, riding the spark that Dosunmu provided with his return to the starting lineup. His absence certainly contributed to the loss to Rutgers over the weekend, which inched Illinois closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble after riding a seven-game winning streak to the top of the Big Ten conference standings earlier this season. 

“I think this league is so good. The one thing you find out is there’s ups and downs throughout the season,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said after the game. “We had some adversity, you lose Ayo for a game and when you lose your alpha it throws things off, but how good was he today? 

“We competed, we made plays, I thought we did an unbelievable job on [Lamar] Stevens. he’s killed us every time we’ve played them. This is a terrific Penn State team and I couldn’t be happier for our guys.”

Stevens, Penn State’s star in a historically great season, was held to 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting in the loss. 

The Nittany Lions are going to be under consideration to see a step back in the rankings after tying the program’s best AP poll ranking at No. 9 (also 1995-96 and 1953-54) earlier this week. Penn State will also fall further back from Maryland in the Big Ten conference standings, though the Nittany Lions do hold the head-to-head tiebreaker from the regular season should they finish tied for first at the end of the year. 

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