The Ohio State Buckeyes are now in the thick of crunch time in Big Ten season play. While Ohio State has effectively punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament already with a stellar 25-2 record this season, other teams have found themselves dropped in the bucket of bubble teams, fighting for a spot in the Big Dance. The Fighting Illini of Illinois are one such team, and having already picked up one L against the Buckeyes this season, our rivals from Champaign will be fighting (as their name suggests) to avoid a second L when they visit Columbus on Tuesday night. Short of a Big Ten Tournament championship, nothing would bolster Illinois’ tournament resume more than a victory over Ohio State at this point.
Ohio State’s first game against Illinois occurred exactly one month ago on January 22nd, and at the time was a hugely anticipated game for the Buckeyes. Entering the game at 19-0, the away contest at Illinois was predicted by many to be the first game that Ohio State would drop. While it got dicey at times, the Scarlet & Gray pulled out the victory. Eric’s recap of that game can be viewed here, and the other essential info on this year’s Illini squad can be viewed in the prior game’s preview here. Read More
The Buckeyes and Illini collided in Urbana-Champaign in one of the toughest matchups the Buckeyes had faced all season. The Buckeyes demonstrated that they may be the real deal, coming back from eight down in the second half to beat the Illini 73-68 away from the friendly confines of Value City Arena. The Bucks rode Jared Sullinger’s 27 points and 16 rebounds to the tough fought win, his ninth double double for the season.
Illinois started out of the gate fast and strong. The Illini began with a tough man defense and did not commit to the double team of Sullinger except when Jared possessed the ball below the basket. The strategy allowed the Illini to be aggressive in all other phases of defense and open up a quick lead by forcing turnovers. The Bucks didn’t stay down long, though, finding second chance points in the paint and a long three from Diebler to regain the lead.
The defense on the other end of the court was a tough nut for the Illini to crack. Several times the Buckeyes forced turnovers after forcing Illinois to run 30 seconds off the shot clock. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time until Illinois figured out how to work around the OSU help defense. With some clever passing, the Illini were able to find open looks from outside. Worse yet, they managed to get the ball down low to Jereme Richmond who nearly made it to double digits while the Buckeyes struggled to figure out how to defend him.