PEORIA — The challenges piled up on Morgan Park senior Ayo Dosunmu throughout his high school career.
It started at Westinghouse freshman year, when he tried to make a name for himself in the lower division White conference. It continued when he transferred to Morgan Park, as multiple injuries junior and senior year forced him to miss games, including last season’s state championship game.
There was one final challenge, thrown down by Morgan Park assistant coach Lance Irvin on Friday.
“Coach Lance got on me yesterday,” Dosunmu said. “He was yelling at me on the bus, saying that I wasn’t a leader.”
Dosunmu responded with a record-breaking performance. The Illinois recruit scored a Class 3A title game record 28 points to lead the Mustangs to a 71-56 win against Springfield Southeast in the state championship game on Saturday at Carver Arena.
“I wanted to come out and show who I was,” Dosunmu said. “I battled through so many injuries. I’m still not 100 percent, but mind over matter. No pain, no gain. This was about fulfilling my promises to myself. I could have surrendered and I didn’t. I’m proud of myself and thankful for my family.”
Dosunmu was 8-for-14 from the field. He stepped up and controlled the game on most key possessions, thwarting an intense, physical upset bid from the Spartans.
Morgan Park (25-9) led by eight at the half and nine after three quarters. Southeast (29-4) basically stayed with striking distance until All-State forward Anthony Fairlee fouled out midway through the fourth quarter. He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“We just couldn’t make enough plays to get on a roll,” Southeast coach Lawrence Thomas said. “Give them the credit, they are the defending champions for a reason. Don’t be surprised if we are back on this court next year.”
Senior Cam Burrell scored 11 and grabbed eight rebounds for Morgan Park. Sophomore Marcus Watson had 11 points and five assists and sophomore Adam Miller, a high-profile transfer from Peoria Manual, added 11.
“It was a long, hard process moving from city to city,” Miller said. “But [Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin] told me before I even got there that all of this was planned. Everything he told me has happened. He brought me back to my city and all I had to do was play defense and knock down some shots.”
Morgan Park is the second Public League team to repeat as state champions this season. Orr won its second Class 2A title last weekend. Young goes for a repeat in tonight’s Class 4A title game.
It’s the fifth state title for the Mustangs, who won in 1976, 2013, 2014 and 2017.
Irvin was Morgan Park’s coach for all but the first title. He says this was the toughest run he’s had to the championship. The Mustangs weren’t just missing Dosunmu for a large chunk of the season, UAB-bound big man Tamell Pearson only played in the final three games after suffering an eye injury.
“Absolutely, it was the toughest one,” Nick Irvin said. “I knew these guys were loyal to me, would run through a brick wall for me. I just had to get myself level-headed. I’m used to winning, beating everybody or close to it. We took close losses early on and I had to make an adjustment.”
Morgan Park’s domination of Class 3A has some fans wondering if the Mustangs will petition to move up to Class 4A, where most of the Public League powers play.
“We’re not running from anyone,” Irvin said. “We played the number one team in the country, people forget that. I think people forget who I am. I’ll play anybody, any place, anywhere, any time.”
Dosunmu isn’t done facing up to challenges. He was already thinking about the next one while waiting in line for his state championship medal.
“Now that my high school career is over I’m completely locked in to Illinois and trying to get some more players that we need,” Dosunmu said.