Thursday’s contest saw two streaking teams; unfortunately for their fans, streaking in the wrong direction. Despite their streak, the Buckeyes entered the game as 11 point favorites, so at least on the surface it was the “get well” game that Ohio State needed. And indeed it was, with Ohio State surviving 1st half shooting woes (29%) to emerge with a much needed 62-55 win.
The Buckeyes were led by LaQuinton Ross (18 pts), Lenzelle Smith Jr (16 pts) and Aaron Craft (11 pts). Craft also filled the stat sheet with 5 assists and 6 rebounds. In addition to improved shooting in the 2nd half 54% (13-24), OSU also improved its ball handling, committing only 5 turnovers, compared to 7 in the 1st half. There were still a few wrinkles to work out, but this was a much better performance at both ends of the court, particularly in the 2nd half. Hopefully, this may be the springboard to boost the Buckeyes’ confidence and get them back on track
The Fighting Illini were led by Joseph Bertrand (19 pts), Nnanna Egwu (10 pts) and Jon Ekay (11 pts). Egwu nearly scored a double-double as he pulled down 9 rebounds.
Illinois started out in a man-to-man and OSU got on the board less than a minute and a half into game with a Shannon Scott offensive rebound and put-back. At the under-16 timeout, OSU held a 5-3 lead. At the mid-point of the 1st half , Ohio State held (briefly) a 9-7 lead. As the half came to a close with Illini holding a 25-24 lead, the 24 and 25 point “outbursts” the Buckeyes had against Minnesota and Nebraska looked strangely familiar. The Buckeyes were 7-24 from the field. The scoring was nicely spread out (Craft-4 ,Scott-4, Smith-6, Williams-5, Ross-4), there just wasn’t enough of it. Fortunately, Illinois was only 10-24, so they weren’t setting the net on fire either.
Although Ohio State still hadn’t found their shooting eye, they did seem to play with a bit more focus in the half, aside from a couple defensive lapses and their 7 turnovers. With sketchy shooting of late, every possession is even more valuable. Even with the not-too-good shooting, there were a couple bright spots, at least initially. Ohio State seemed to be more aggressive in their “paint” play, both offensively and defensively.
In 2nd half action, both teams did some basket-trading and Illinois maintained their 1 points lead at the under-16 timeout, 32-31. The Buckeyes were 3-5 from the filed at this point, so things were looking up. In a :23 stretch, layups by LQR and Aaron Craft moved OSU ahead 35-34 with 14:13 remaining. baskets in quick succession by Smith and Thompson gave OSU a 9-0 run at 12:12 mark to move the Buckeyes out to a 40-34 lead. So, as we closed in on the half midpoint, the Buckeyes were starting to looking like their old selves.
Obviously, Illinois wasn’t going away, and at the 7:17 mark and pulled with 2 points (44-42) on Bertrand tipin that plantes Aaron Craft into the first row. Alas, no foul.. At the 4:22 mark, thanks to a LQR 3-pointer, the Buckeyes held a 49-46 lead. At he 2:00 mark OSU was up 55-50 and a charging foul on Rayvonte Rice gave the ball back to the Buckeyes.. Now, by the time we get to the 1:02 mark, OSU is holding a 58-53 lead.
The next game for the Buckeyes is January 29th at 7:00 PM EST, when they host the Nittany Lions of Penn State. Television coverage via BTN, check your local listings. LiveChat via tBBC, starting approximately 30 minutes before tip-off. Please join us.