BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When you are the best player in your state, there is an expectation to stay home and become the face of the state’s top collegiate program.
Illinois freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu and Indiana freshman guard Romeo Langford have both taken that route this season.
Dosunmu, the Mr. Basketball in Illinois last season, is averaging 11.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for the Fighting Illini.
Langford, the Mr. Basketball in Indiana a year ago, is averaging 17.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the Hoosiers.
But, that is where the similarities between these two end as Indiana will host Illinois tonight in a Big Ten Conference contest at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
The Fighting Illini have struggled, going 4-9 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, including a very disappointing loss last Saturday against Florida Atlantic, 73-71 in overtime. While the Hoosiers are rated No. 21 in the country and they are 11-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten.
“I know him and we’re cool,” said Dosunmu, who has played against Langford on the summer circuit. “We’re not like best friends.”
The two freshman phenoms have also had very different starts to their collegiate career.
Dosunmu has had just seven games of double-figure scoring, but the former Chicago Morgan Park standout is coming off a 21-point, 8-rebound game in the loss to Florida Atlantic.
“I’m still trying to get better,” said Dosunmu, who was 15-of-55 from the field in his six previous games at Illinois.
On the other side, Langford is eighth in scoring among collegiate freshmen. The former standout at New Albany has had 13 straight games of scoring in double figures and the 6-foot-6 guard is shooting a remarkable 50.3 percent (81-of-161) from the field.
Indiana coach Archie Miller considers him to be the catalyst for the Hoosiers.
“Well I just think teams, off the ball, are really trying to take him out of the game at times. And I think he’s having his opportunities in transition, and with just the regular flow. We’ve got to do a better job of advancing the ball, and our team in general, just has to continue to become a better passing team, sharing it,” said Miller. “But without question I think that he has to be able to be a primary ball-handler in big stretches of games or tough stretches of games where he’s the guy sort of working in the middle of the floor, and the clock, with Juwan (Morgan). Or just at the end of the day, he’s starting actions for us as well.”
Neither Dosunmu nor Langford are a one-man team, but while Dosunmu and Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier have struggled to put together quality performances together on the same night, Langford and Indiana senior Juwan Morgan have combined to provide a formidable 1-2 punch for the Hoosiers.
“Trent is my man,” Dosunmu said. “We have noticed that we haven’t had games where we are both at our best.
“We need to try to get it going defensively to get our team going and it will be easier for us.”
Illinois coach Brad Underwood says that Morgan is actually one of the elite players in the Big Ten.
“He is the most versatile guy in our league,” Underwood said. “He is a guy that is shooting the 3 much better than a year ago. He also facilitates. You add Langford for that veteran group and you have a good basketball team.
“We will have to play well and we will have to be better offensively than we have been. That has been a focal point in our practices this week.”
The Illini have had a few two-a-day practices leading into tonight’s contest with the Hoosiers, especially after Illinois shot just a season-low 31.6 percent from the field.
“It’s a detail thing. Little things matter,” Underwood said. “You have to fight for your position. This game is physical. You can’t let guys bump you off of your cuts. You also have to set up your cut. You have to go screen, you can’t stop two fee short. Those little things are the details that matter and we are not doing a good job with them.
“When you don’t do those little things, they become more than minor issues.”
And when a team gets into conference play, Illinois lost its first two league games against Nebraska and Ohio State back in early December, those little things magnify even greater as the Illini are looking for just their second conference road win in the Underwood era. They are 1-8 in their previous nine league contests away from the State Farm Center.
“You can’t win on the road in this league if you don’t execute,” Underwood said. “On Saturday, we held a team (Florida Atlantic) scoreless for 7 minutes, 41 seconds and we couldn’t win. That was because we ran bad offense.
“We have to be better at that end. And in order to do that, we have to be tougher and more disciplined, so that we can execute.”
Indiana will be without freshman point guard Rob Phinisee, who is in concussion protocol. Guards Al Durham and Devonte Green will need to step up as the Hoosiers rank last in turnovers among Big Ten teams, committing 14.5 per game.
“Illinois thrives on defense, their steals,” Miller said. “They drive on their transition game and it’s the whole key, so to speak, is being able to function offensively with being able to find a way to get some quality shots and being able to get some numbers. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially if you haven’t played them ever. You’ve got young guys in the game; it’s the first time they’ve seen it. But I’ve watched every one of their games from Maui, all the way through their Big Ten games to Missouri, and every game is the same. It’s just a rock fight. You have to understand when you play the game, that’s what it’s going to feel like.”
The Illini will be looking to snap a 12-game losing streak against Top-25 teams tonight in Bloomington. The game is set for a 7 p.m. (Eastern), 6 p.m.(Central) tipoff.
Tonight’s game will be shown on Fox Sports 1 and it can be heard locally on the Fighting Illini Sports Network including Danville stations, WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI AT INDIANA HOOSIERS
Site — Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
When — 7 p.m. (Eastern), 6 p.m. (Central) today
Records — Illinois 4-9 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference; Indiana 11-2 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference.
Rankings — The Hoosiers are rated No. 21 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
Television — Fox Sports 1
Radio — Fighting Illini Sports Network with Brian Barnhart and Doug Altenberger. Local stations include WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.
Previous results — Indiana leads the all-time series 91-87 over Illinois. The two programs split a pair of meetings last season. The Hoosiers won 78-68 on Feb. 14 in Bloomington, Ind.; while the Illini had a 73-71 triumph on Jan. 24 in Champaign.
Last games — The Fighting Illini suffered a 73-71 loss to the Florida Atlantic Owls in overtime last Saturday; while the Hoosiers defeated the Jacksonville Bulls 94-64 on Dec. 22 in Bloomington,Ind.
Up next — Illinois will conclude a two-game Big Ten road trip with a noon contest on Sunday in Evanston against the Northwestern Wildcats; Indiana will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a 4:30 p.m. (Eastern) game against the No. 2-rated Michigan Wolverines.
Projected Lineups — Illinois: G Trent Frazier, 6-1, sophomore; G Ayo Dosunmu, 6-5, freshman; G Aaron Jordan, 6-5, senior; F Kipper Nichols, 6-6, junior; F Giorgi Bezhanishvili, 6-9, freshman; Indiana: G Romeo Langford, 6-6, freshman; G AJ Durham, 6-4, sophomore; G Devonte Green, 6-3, junior; F Justin Smith, 6-7, sophomore; F Juwan Morgan, 6-8, senior.
Scoring — Illinois: Trent Frazier 15.9, Ayo Dosunmu 11.9, Aaron Jordan 10.8. Indiana: Romeo Langford 17.5, Juwan Morgan 16.2.
Rebounding — Illinois: Jordan 5.3, Giorgi Bezhanishvili 4.8, Dosunmu 4.6. Indiana: Morgan 7.6, Langford 5.7.
Assists — Illinois: Frazier 3.0, Dosunmu 2.9. Indiana: Devonte Green 3.7, Rob Phinisee 3.5, Morgan 2.9, Langford 2.6.