The last time Illinois visited College Park was also the last game before The Ayo Era truly began. Like a lot of games against Maryland, it ended stupidly.
You’ve tried to forget Anthony Cowan’s 35-footer, and in part, you’ve been successful: You still remember it, but you think it won the game.
It didn’t. It tied the game.
Then things got stupider.
The Illini had a chance to win in regulation. Or just kill the clock.
Instead, Cowan & Sticks Smith tackled Andres Feliz, stole his ball, and ran to the other end. One free-throw and one intentional miss later, Maryland had capped off yet another improbable defeat of Illinois.
Illinois led 57-48 with 4:12 remaining. Closing a game on a 1-11 run was the only way they could manage to lose, so that’s what they did.
It was arguably even stupider than the statistically impossible Terrapin comeback in Brad Underwood’s first year, when Da’Monte Williams had not yet become the unshakablest Illini.
After the December Debacle, Quam Dosunmu (the elder) was possessed by frustration. He hadn’t steered his son to the Illinois program to watch Andres Feliz get ripped in crunch time. His family hadn’t traveled to Washington to witness ignominious defeat.
Quam’s rant went on for quite some time, and I probably wasn’t the only one who listened to it. I was however, the only one present while he was ranting to me.
I never asked Quam’s permission to share his words, and I didn’t record them, or even make notes afterward. But none of that matters. Once The Legend of Ayo became a matter of record, the Dosunmu family no longer needed to campaign.
It wasn’t unreasonable to put the ball in Andre Feliz’s hands. After all, he’d closed the first half of that same game effectively.
But obviously, Illinois needed to ensure, from that point on, that Ayo Dosunmu had the ball when the game was on the line.
The rest is history.
Brad Underwood remembers the violence and the non-call, but he doesn’t remember the Xfinity Center as the place where he realized that, going forward, Illinois basketball would look to Ayo Dosunmu to close the door.
Or at least he’s not saying it.
Presumably, Quam shared his thoughts with Brad, too. The Dosunmus had an access that most families don’t enjoy. Was that part of the deal? Your guess is as good as mine.
Underwood probably wouldn’t like to develop a reputation for heeding the demands of disgruntled parents, because all parents are disgruntled at some point, and many carry a low intensity grudge throughout their son’s eligibility.
All we know is that after the game at Maryland, Things Changed.
Underwood is not the kind of guy who’s put off by a grudge, of course. He thrives on them. You noticed, as the team prepared for its first B1G road trip of this season, that winless at Carver-Hawkeye was made known to everyone. It’s a chip that Underwood carries. He carries that chip for the Xfinity Center, too.
Because Maryland is bad this year, Illinois has a good chance to get Brad his first College Park roadkill. And the truth is, this is a must win for the Illini. They can’t expect to compete for a B1G title if they lose to the last place teams.
Maryland is 1-6 in conference, and 9-9 overall. Their coach quit before the angry mob arrived. Interim coach Danny Manning has already been drummed out of P5 basketball. After getting Tulsa to the dance in his second year, he went 78–111 at Wake Forest.
But he’s 1-and-1 versus Underwood. And Brad knows that, too.