Your favorite team is going to your favorite tournament.
Ayo hasn’t finished his business, and Tuesday night he made a statement to that effect.
Penn State’s defense was every bit as stifling as MSU’s, or Rutgers or Iowa. But they didn’t stop Ayo from penetrating the way Iowa did. They don’t have a Sticks Smith or a Myles Johnson anchoring the D.
No Rob, I hear you say, they have a Mike Watkins!
Tuesday night in State College, Mike Watkins was AWOL. He didn’t start. He played 18 minutes, including just five in the second half. The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Nominee was not in foul trouble. He had Kofi problems. Or he had Ayo problems.
Really, it was his choice.
Illinois’ spacing problem resolved itself in State College. Well, enough anyway.
Ayo and Andres Feliz made the right decisions on a sufficient number of occasions to keep the Illini a few points ahead, keep the crowd nervous, and the Lions on their heels.
Two specific plays changed the tone, and perhaps the outcome of the game. One involved Ayo & Da’Monte, just as you’d expect. (It makes sense from a narrative perspective, see?) The other demonstrated Kofi’s mid-game tutelage.
Kofi had already committed his second shot clock violation in as many games, getting caught with the ball in his hands and no idea that time was running out. He learned from that experience.
With the Nittany hosts seeking a late-game comeback, it happened again.
But this time, Kofi got the ball in the basket, dampening the hosts’ hopes.
The other play happened a few moments earlier.
Ayo had hit the ground for the second time, as he often does. He was slow to get up, and assuming the TV camera was on him, I suspect some of you feared the worst.
He did get up, but he was late getting back on D. It turned out serendipitously well.
It’s a game of inches, and this time, the Illini punch had greater reach.
The bid was already locked in, so this column’s title is shameless clickbait. But the Illini are no longer the 12 seed. Now they’re playing for a four.