March 14, 2021
INDIANAPOLIS – The Fighting Illini basketball team earned their third overall Big Ten Tournament title, and their first title since 2005 in a 91-88 overtime victory over Ohio State Sunday afternoon in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Illini were led by 16 points apiece from Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo. Da’Monte Williams added 13 points on a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 12 points and six rebounds.
The Orange and Blue stormed out of the gates, building a 17-point lead with 9:45 to go in the first period. Cockburn was a dominating presence early, scoring 11 points in the first half, and Da’Monte Williams was on fire from behind the arc, shooting a perfect three-for-three in the first period. Ohio State went on a run of their own at the end of the first half, making it a five-point game heading into halftime.
The game tightened in the second half despite the Illini holding a narrow lead throughout the second period. Bezhanishvili exploded in the second period, scoring 12 and giving the juice to the Illini. Justice Sueing of Ohio State made an and-one layup to tie the game at 77 with :23 seconds remaining, but Cockburn couldn’t get the put-back from a Dosunmu three and the game headed to overtime.
In overtime, Curbelo got the scoring started with a pullup jumper to put the Illini ahead. After a pair of free throws by Ohio State and a layup put the Buckeyes ahead by one, Cockburn hit a pair of free throws and the Illini never looked gave up the lead again. Curbelo scored four straight points on a pullup jumper and two free throws, and a Cockburn free throw and two pairs of charity line visits from Dosunmu and Williams iced the game and the tournament championship for the Illini.
The Illini added 41 points from their bench from Curbelo (16), Williams (13), Bezhanishvili (12), Miller (5), and Grandison (3). This was the most points scored from the Illinois bench since the Illini had 36 bench points in a blowout win over NC A&T.
Ayo Dosunmu was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2021 Big Ten Tournament. He heads into the NCAA Tournament averaging 20.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. Cockburn was also named to the All-Tournament team as selected by the media.
The Illini head to the NCAA Tournament as a no. 1 seed in the Midwest region. This is the fourth time the Illini have been selected as a number one seed, and the first since the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
• Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament for the third time (2003, 2005, 2021).
• Illinois has won seven straight and 14 of its last 15 games.
• Illinois has won six straight over top-10 teams. The Illini tied the school record for top-10 wins in a single season with six, first set by the 1989 Flyin’ Illini.
• Illinois had 41 bench points, its most bench points in a game this season. The previous season-high was 36 vs. NC A&T and the high against Big Ten competition was 30 at Penn State.
• Illinois is 3-2 all-time against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, including a 2-0 record in championship games (2003, 2021).
• Illinois is 21-6 in Big Ten Tournament games when it is the higher seed.
• Illinois is 14-10 all-time in Big Ten Tournament games played in Indianapolis. The Illini played its third championship game in Indianapolis (2004, 2008, 2021).
• Illinois owns the second-most Big Ten Tournament championship game appearances, advancing to the title game seven times.
10 Ohio State
7 Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin
• Illinois was a No. 2 seed in the BTT for the fourth time. Illinois is 8-2 as the No. 2 seed, winning the championship in 2003 and advancing to the semifinals in 1998 and 2009.
• Illinois has the third-most all-time Big Ten Tournament wins with 31.
33 Ohio State
32 Michigan State
• Illinois won its three Big Ten Tournament games by an average margin of 12.0 points, tied for the seventh-highest margin in tournament history. The record is 14.3 set by the 2003 Fighting Illini.
• Illinois is 4-1 all-time in overtime at the Big Ten Tournament.
• Illinois and Ohio State played to overtime for the seventh time in the 188-game history of the series dating back to 1915. The Illini are 2-5 all-time against Ohio State in OT with the lone win coming in 1975 in Champaign.
• Illinois scored 90 points in a Big Ten Tournament game for the fifth time in program history, the most of any team.
• Illinois received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time (1989, 2001, 2005, 2021) and will play No. 16-seed Drexel on Friday.
• Illinois has 19 wins against Big Ten competition (19-4), four more than any other team in the conference.
• Kofi Cockburn tied Illinois’ Big Ten Tournament record with 15 offensive rebounds in the tournament.
COURTESY ILLINOIS ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS