Illinois Fighting Illini Snap 5-game Skid, Rout Minnesota Golden Gophers 95-68
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Giorgi Bezhanishvili found a unique way to relay the importance of Illinois' performance Wednesday night against Minnesota.
"Ayo's got a birthday tomorrow," the 6-foot-9 freshman said, placing an arm around fellow freshman Ayo Dosunmu. "This was the birthday gift for him."
It was a much-needed present not only for Dosunmu, but for the Illini as a whole.
Dosunmu produced 23 points and Bezhanishvili added 20 points as Illinois used one of its best first halves this season to defeat the Golden Gophers 95-68 and end a five-game skid.
The Illini (5-12, 1-5 Big Ten) piled up 51 points in the opening 20 minutes — their second-best output thus far — on the back of hot shooting and a strong glass presence.
"We were in every game we played in conference so far," Dosunmu said. "So it was great to finally get that monkey off your back."
The Golden Gophers (13-4, 3-3) hadn't permitted more than 44 points in a first period when they arrived at State Farm Center. They led for just 28 seconds versus Illinois.
"It was a night that a lot of things started to click," second-year Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "I couldn't be happier for our locker room."
The Illini's second-leading scorer as a freshman, Dosunmu potted 15 points before halftime.
Fellow freshman Bezhanishvili tallied 14 points and five boards prior to reaching the locker room. Both marks exceeded his full-game averages.
Backing the college newcomers were Trent Frazier with 15 points and Andres Feliz with 10 points as Illinois shot 56.1 percent from the field.
Minnesota, which lost for the second time in its last three bouts, received 17 points from Daniel Oturu and 11 points from Jordan Murphy.
"Credit to (the Illini): They were really good, and we were really bad," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "We took a major step backward today."
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