A month after their first meeting in Champaign, the Fighting Illini finally returned the favor in Columbus. Sadly for Illinois, they weren’t able to pay-back the result, falling to the Buckeyes 89-70. Ohio State returned to their pre-Wisconsin form, destroying a team with solid shooting and excellent defense for the first time in the last four games. David Lighty’s 21 points led all scorers, while Jared Sullinger notched his 13th double double on the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The big surprise for Illinois was star player Demetri McCamey sitting on the bench to start the game. The move was made by Bruce Weber to try to get more effort out of his team and hopefully drive a spark off the bench. Interestingly, the switch was made moments before the game began and was a complete surprise to the Illini players.
Early on, it looked like a good move on Weber’s part. The Illini showed great effort in the early minutes, fighting hard and making things hard on the Buckeyes on offense. The strategy did have the unfortunate effect of taking Illinois’ best shooter off the court, leaving them with limited scoring options.
Even worse for the Illini was William Buford’s start for the game. Buford came out hitting 4-5 of his shots from the floor – the only miss from three point range – scoring 8 quick points from several points on the court. It was clear that the Buckeyes were working hard to get him open and let him score the ball.
Illinois kept it close on the strength of some great three point shooting. The Illini mimicked the strategy Wisconsin and Purdue used to get points against the Buckeyes. By using an on-ball screen to quickly free up a shooter, the Buckeyes were unable to recover in time to cover the shooter.
Illinois’ Tisdale, along with McCamey and Richardson, were raining three pointers with abandon. Tisdale in particular was super hot, hitting 4-4 from beyond the arc in the first half. As a whole, the Illini hit 8-9 from beyond the arc in the first half, a sick 88.8%. This had to be the most ridiculous case of desperation three point shooting I’ve ever seen.
And desperation it was, it was clear that the three point shooting was the only thing keeping Illinois in the game. Twice the Buckeyes managed to open up big leads on their opponent, only to see a couple quick three pointers close the gap to nearly nothing. But consider the fact that the Buckeyes continued to have the lead despite Illinois shooting like it was going out of style.
But the Buckeyes had a surprise up their sleeves. As the half came to a close, Ohio State went on an 14-0 run to completely take the half away. The team’s went into the locker room with a 15 point differential on the board. Even better, the Buckeyes closed out the half with NO turnovers.
The Buckeyes shot a very good 57.1% (20-35) from the floor and 3-6 (50%) from three in the very fast paced first half. The Illini responded with 52.2% (12-23) from the floor to go with their previously mentioned disgusting three point shooting. Not surprising, OSU’s 9-0 advantage in the turnover column was a major difference in the half, as very few OSU possessions came up empty.
Only two players ended up in double digits for the first half. Mike Tisdale of Illinois drained 12 on his 4 three pointers, while William Buford led all scorers with 17, three more than his per game average.
The second half started out sloppy for both teams. Illinois took advantage of the play, picking up a 5-0 run through the first few minutes of the half. The Bucks eventually managed to find some baskets, but it was clear that they were having trouble against Illinois’ defensive adjustments. Worse yet, they were finding it particularly difficult playing in the paint with the Illini playing a much more physical brand of basketball.
A timeout seemed to solve the issues. The Buckeyes began to play tougher defense, forcing turnovers and making things difficult for Illinois. The big winner for the run was David Lighty who drained two big three pointers, and broke a number of fast break scores to start to rebuild the OSU lead. The most impressive was a break away off a steal that led to Lighty one-hand dunking while drawing a cheap foul from an Illini defender.
Illinois wasn’t going to go away that quickly. After being down 17 with only 10 minutes left in the game, the Illini went on an 8 point tear. The run dropped the difference to nine forcing the Buckeyes to call a break and sort out what was going wrong.
The answer was a surprise. Deshaun Thomas entered the game to score 6 quick points, including a three pointer plus a basket and foul. That was the most points we had seen him score in a game since the Purdue game in Columbus (13), and his first three pointer since the last matchup with Illinois.
Things began to settle down late in the second half. The teams started trading buckets, keeping the score differential near 10 points. That was particularly valuable for Illinois, who was hoping to keep the score within range for a quick comeback towards the end. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Ohio State’s scoring continued to improve as the game wore on, allowing them to slowly build their lead and snuff the life out of Illinois.
With two minutes remaining, the Buckeyes held a nearly insurmountable 17 point lead. Illinois valiantly attempted to close the gap, but were simply unable to do so. The Buckeyes closed out the game in a slow, bone crushing fashion that took all hope away from the Illini in the end.
For the game, Illinois shot a very good 51.9% (28-54) from the floor and 52.4% (11-21) from three, while the Buckeyes responded with 53% (35-66) and 46.7% (7-15) respectively. The biggest difference, and one of the major reasons for the big discrepancy in shots attempted, was the turnover differential which was 16-3 in the Buckeye’s favor. Surprisingly, OSU also only committed 9 fouls the entire game, one of the lowest outputs in Thad Matta’s career.
David Lighty led all scorers with his 21 points. He was joined in double figures by William Buford’s 17, Jon Diebler’s 13, Jared Sullinger’s 12 (along with a double double with rebounds) and Aaron Craft’s 12. The sudden reemergence of all of OSU’s scorers was nice to see after several games of poor shooting for the team. Illinois’ Mike Davis (18), Mike Tisdale (14) and Jereme Richmond (11) represented the Illini in the double digit club.
The Buckeyes next face the Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday, February 27th at 4:00 PM Eastern Time. You will be able to find that game on CBS.