Stingy defense and a 20-6 spurt in the second half allowed the Ohio
State Buckeyes to overcome an ugly first half and beat host Illinois 48-39 on Saturday.
A sellout crowd of 17,200 fans, many of whom were dressed like empty seats at game’s end, watched as Aaron Craft scored 14 points to lead the OSU effort. LaQuinton Ross added 9 and Marc Loving 8 as OSU improved to 20-6 overall and 7-6 in the B1G.
The spurt in the second half included eight straight points that helped OSU turn a 23-20 halftime deficit into a 36-29 lead midway through as the Buckeyes, who played for long stretches without the foul-plagued Craft, won at Illinois for the first time since 2011.
Loving was a spark in the second half, scoring all of his points, as was Ross, who hit a couple of early baskets to help erase the lead. The defense held Illinois to just 16 second-half points.
OSU was up 12 late in the game and heading for a blowout, but a lucky banked-in 3-point shot and some shaky free-throw shooting helped Illinois (14-12, 3-10) cut it to five with under a minute left. But Shannon Scott and Craft each nailed a pair of free throws to settle down OSU and ice the victory.
The Buckeyes probably won’t win the B1G but they are definitely playing for seeding in the conference tournament as well as seeding in the NCAA Tournament. The clueless announcers on the Big Ten Network said OSU is not a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
A team with an RPI of 19, and schedule strength of 6 is surely going to the NIT. Fire Thad Matta! That’s why they are on the Big Ten Network.
As for the B1G, OSU currently is fifth with the top four teams getting byes to the second round. If Michigan beats Wisconsin on Sunday, yes OSU fans, root for TTUN, OSU is in a tie with the Badgers for fourth.
Down 23-20 at halftime, Ross tied it quickly with a 3-ball from the corner pocket. Tied at 25 at the first TV TO, Craft came out of the break and nailed a 3-pointer, giving OSU it’s first lead since 3-2. A long 2-pointer by Lenzelle Smith Jr., gave OSU a 30-25 lead and forced an Illinois TO.
Craft went to the bench with a tad over 12 minutes left and OSU clinging to a small lead, but OSU was able to build on it, and forced another Illinois timeout after a Loving jumper gave OSU a 36-29 lead with 9:50 left. At that point, the Illini had made just two field goals in the half.
It was a complete role-reversal from the first half.
Ohio State had trouble making shots early and compounded that with poor rebounding. The Buckeyes trailed 10-8 at the first media timeout, with Craft scoring six of the points, and then were down 15-9 at the under 12 timeout.
Ohio State went 7:30 without a bucket but a hoop by Ross kept the Buckeyes close at 15-11. Down 17-14 right before the under 8 timeout, Scott came up with a steal and layup and a couple seconds later OSU had another steal and a chance to take the lead before losing it on a held-ball.
Illinois then went on a run and opened a 23-18 lead at the under 4 timeout. A monster dunk by Sam Thompson on a Scott fast-break feed cut it to 23-20.
And despite playing lousy for the much of the half, and with Craft on the bench with foul trouble, OSU trailed just 23-20 at the break. The Buckeyes hit just 1 of 8 from long range and shot 32% overall.