CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood knew a slow start was coming on Sunday.
It was the first game back, and in the Central Time Zone, for the Illinois men's basketball team after a trip to the Maui Invitational.
Underwood guessed right, but it didn't hurt the Illini on the way to an 86-67 win over Mississippi Valley State on Sunday at the State Farm Center to snap a four-game losing streak.
“I think the important thing was we got that one over with," Underwood said. "It’s a challenging game. It’s a hard game. I learned from experience two years (at Oklahoma State) ago that the game back from Maui is not easy.
“We were a very tired basketball team. We knew that going in — not to take anything away from Mississippi Valley State or anybody else. We knew this was a game we’d have to grind through physically and mentally."
Mississippi Valley State (1-6) guard Jordan Evans led all scorers with 22 points.
“We’re physically tired, our bodies are in that time cycle and (we're) coming out here and doing what we do," Frazier said. "(It's) just getting better as a team and focusing on what we do as a team and what we do in his system — working on our things to get better."
Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu had his hand print on the game in every capacity with six points, nine assists, nine rebounds and two steals.
"Ayo’s performance was dominant and he didn’t score the basketball," Underwood said.
Dosunmu was 0-for-3 on 3-pointers, but drove through the lane and made flashy passes to his teammates to facilitate the offense. He didn't have any turnovers.
"I feel like I can affect the game in different ways," Dosunmu said. "My team was making shots early, like Da'Monte getting going. I wanted to get in the lanes and kick it out to him. If I'm open I’ll keep shooting. Ill never lose confidence there because I put so much work into it. I felt like my team was making a lot of shots, so I was going to keep them going."
Underwood rolled out the entire bench on Sunday behind starters Girorgi Bezhanishvili, Adonis De La Rosa, Frazier, Dosunmu and Aaron Jordan, resulting in 54 bench points.
Illinois didn't get it rolling until the 7:35 mark in the first half when Williams hit a pair of free throws to extend a one-point lead to three, which sparked the Illini on a run to an eight-point lead before slowly building it up from there.
Illinois led 45-29 at halftime and the lead got as high as 25 points in the second half.
"I think we did pretty well with it," Dosumu said. "Coach Underwood let us get through some adversity on the court early ... coming back from Hawaii and getting our legs back. This was expected. It was all about our response, and I feel like in the second half and at the end of the first half we picked it up pretty well and we played better."
Freshman big man Samba Kane, in his first action of the season, played nearly 12 total minutes. He had six points — a turnaround mid-range shot and two dunks — two rebounds and a block.
“It's big time," Frazier said of Kane. "I think that’s what it is. He has to gain his confidence. Right now he’s struggling with that. Me and the guys are helping him with that in practice. We're getting on him. It's helped. We're bettering him as a player. He's growing, we're proud of him and we’re looking forward to him taking steps forward everyday in practice and getting into the game when he gets into the game."
Illinois opened the game with 13 consecutive 3-point attempts and finished going 16-of-30 from behind the line. The 16 made 3-pointers tied a single-game record for most in program history.
“I think that’s a little bit about who we are," Underwood said. "I really, really like it when they go in. That’s the one thing that we know — we’re going to be that team a little bit. We have a lot of guys who can make them. I like that concept. I think we have to find a little better balance throwing the ball into the paint."