Big Second Half Propels Ohio State Past Illinois
#19 Ohio State utilized tremendous half court team defense in the second half to storm back from as many as 11 down to defeat 23rd ranked Illinois 71-63 in the Schott, all but ending Illinois’ hopes to share the Big Ten title. With the victory, Ohio State moves to 21-9 and 11-8 in the Big Ten. Trailing by 46-40 with 14 minutes to go, Ohio State preceded to outscore Illinois 31-17 the rest of the way to pull away late and get a major victory for the tournament resume. Kaleb Wesson led Ohio State with 19 points, 15 in the second half to go along with 5 rebounds before fouling out with just under 2 minutes to go. E.J. Liddell was huge off the bench for Ohio State, recording his first career double double, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds and C.J. Walker scored 15. Andre Wesson, playing his last game in the Schott, scored 8 and pulled down 8 boards, going out a winner.
The Buckeyes got on the board first, as senior Danny Hummer, getting his first career start on senior night, came off a Kaleb Wesson screen at the top and put it on the floor and got to the rim for a lay in. Duane Washington, Jr. hit a runner off the window to give Ohio State an early 4-0 lead. The Illini answered with a three and then in transition, scored while being fouled by Kaleb Wesson, his second, and a very questionable foul call. Illinois completed the three-point play to go up 6-4, but E.J. Liddell drilled a 17-foot jumper to tie it. The Illini took a 2 point lead into the under 16 timeout, 8-6 with 15:32 remaining in the first half. Back to back Illinois threes gave Illinois an 8-point lead forcing Kaleb Wesson back on the floor with 2 fouls. Liddell cut into the lead, hitting a 10 footer while being fouled and knocked down the freebie to trim the deficit to five, but Illinois answered with a deuce to lead 16-9 at the second media timeout. Four straight Illinois points ballooned the lead to 20-9, but back came the Buckeyes, outscoring the Illini 6-2 over the next couple minutes and when Duane Washington drilled a three from the left wing, the Buckeyes run went to 9-2 and cut the score to 22-18. After an Illinois bucket, Ohio State went on another run, this time 8-2 to tie the score with 6 minutes remaining in the half. In total, Ohio State was on a 15-4 run and had all the momentum. After 2 minutes of scoreless basketball, Illinois broke the tie with a hoop and after a Buckeye miss, an Illinois triple forced Chris Holtmann to call timeout with the Illini back in front 29-24. A Kaleb Wesson lay in off a lob from Andre Wesson cut the score to 29-26 but the Illini answered with the next 4 to go up 7. A pair of C.J. Walker free throws trimmed the deficit to 5 and after a basket each way, Illinois completed the scoring, nailing a pair of free throws before Ohio State’s last attempt at points for the half fell short, as the Illini outscored the Buckeyes 13-6 in the last 6 minutes. The shooting numbers were not good for Ohio State, hitting only 37% from the field and just 1 of 8 from long range, while Illinois hit 52% of their attempts and 4 of 11 from beyond the arc. E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with 9 points and 5 rebounds and Duane Washington added 6 first half points.
Over a minute of the second half elapsed for the first bucket and it was the Illini, who went up nine early in the final 20. The Buckeyes came right back when C.J. Walker scored in transition while being fouled and completed the three-point play, knocking down the free throw to cut the lead to seven. A pair of Andre Wesson free throws and another Andre Wesson bucket trimmed the lead to just two and at the under 16 media timeout, Illinois led 39-37 but Ohio State was on a 7-0 run, holding Illinois to 1 of 7 shooting to start the half. The run would increase to 10-0 when Kaleb Wesson drilled a three from the right wing and Ohio State went ahead for the first time since early in the first half. An Illinois triple made the lead short lived, however, and the Illini went back on top 42-40 with 14 minutes to go. The Illini scored the next 5, an 8-0 run in total to go back up 7, but a Walker 10 footer found nothing but net and the Buckeyes trailed by just 5. After an Illinois bucket on their end, Kaleb Wesson drilled a triple from the top of the key and at the under 12 media timeout, Illinois led Ohio State 49-45. Kaleb Wesson scored just below the block to trim the lead to 2 and after an Illinois hoop, Walker banged in a pair of free throws. A Kaleb Wesson fade away from the baseline tied the score and the Buckeyes went ahead when E.J. Liddell finished a tip dunk in transition. After an Illinois turnover, the Illini called timeout as Ohio State was ahead 53-51 with 8:43 left in the game and Ohio State on a 12-4 run. 3 Buckeye free throws put the Buckeyes up 5 and after Illinois twice cut it to 3, the Buckeyes answered each time and when Kaleb Wesson finished off an old fashioned three point play, Ohio State led by 6. After an Illini miss, Kaleb Wesson scored on a rebound and put back forcing Illinois to call timeout with Ohio State leading 63-55 and 3:38 to go in the game. Illinois hit a step back jumper to cut the lead to 6 and with Ohio State facing a junk defense, Chris Holtmann didn’t like the look and called a 30 second timeout. Two Andre Wesson free throws put the Buckeyes up 8 with less than 2 minutes to go but Kaleb Wesson picked up his 5th foul on the ensuing possession. After Illinois split the pair, the Buckeyes turned it over and Illinois scored in transition to cut the lead to 5 with 1:26 to go and Illinois called a timeout. After Walker drove to the rim, the ball fell just off the rim and Liddell tipped it in putting the Buckeyes up 7. After an Illinois turnover on the other end, Washington was fouled and buried a pair of free throws sealing the game for the home team. A pair of Buckeye free throws followed by a long Illinois 3 near the horn completed the scoring and ending the home slate for Ohio State with a win.
Effort, rebounding and solid team defense are a recipe for winning basketball and Ohio State did all of that and more on this night. Ohio State found a way to win when they didn’t shoot it particularly well and that’s how good teams win games. This win will go a long way toward seeding in the NCAA tournament. Most publications have them as a 5 right now with the potential of moving up with a road win this weekend along with a decent run in Indy. This team has come off the mat after a poor January and with a short bench, playing their best basketball of the season and now is the time to do it. They will play one more before heading to Indianapolis for what will be a wild Big Ten tournament. The next one will be tough, but the way this team is playing, anything is possible.
Ohio State finishes off the regular season on the road, heading to East Lansing to face Michigan State on Sunday. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM on CBS.