#21 Ohio State Stuns Host #14 Illinois in Champaign

21st ranked Ohio State went on the road, once again shorthanded, trailed only once at 2-0, built a lead as large as 18 before holding off a late Illinois rally to defeat the 14th ranked Illini 87-81 to win their third straight game to move to 11-3 overall and 5-3 in conference play. E.J. Liddell paced the Buckeye attack with a career high 26 to go along with 7 rebounds, while Justin Ahrens, Seth Towns and Duane Washington each added 11. The Buckeyes started fast, building a big lead and held on late to secure a big road win.

The Buckeyes started quick.  After Illinois went right inside to their big 7-footer, Kofi Cockburn for the opening score, Ohio State answered with the next 10.  Washington buried a triple to answer and before the Illini could cross mid-court, Justice Sueing picked off an Illinois pass and took it to the rim for two. An E.J. Liddell 10 footer followed by a Liddell triple from the top put the Buckeyes up 10-2 just 2 ½ minutes into the game. The Illini came right back, scoring the next six to trim the lead to just two at the first media timeout. Out of the timeout, the Illini upped their run to 8-0, tying the score at 10, but back came the Buckeyes. Zed Key caught a Sueing pass at the block and scored off the glass to put Ohio State back ahead. After the Illini tied it once again, Seth Towns caught the ball in the left corner and after a jab step freed a little space, Towns buried a triple to put Ohio State back up three. A transition triple from the Illini tied it, but a pair of Sueing free throws put the Buckeyes back ahead and following an Illinois turnover, Towns drilled a fade away jumper just above the free throw line to give Ohio State a 19-15 lead at the under 12 minute break. Following the timeout, Meechie Johnson drilled a three to put the Buckeyes up six.  After an Illini miss, Liddell buried a 15 footer and after another Illini turnover, Liddell drilled a straight on three forcing Illinois to call timeout with the Buckeyes on a 12-0 run and leading by 12. The Buckeye run increased to 15-0 when Liddell drilled yet another three at the top and Ohio State was doubling up Illinois midway through the first half, leading 30-15. Illinois ended the run with a bucket, but back to back mid lane baby hooks from Zed Key with another Illinois bucket in between, had Ohio State leading 34-19 at the under 8 minute media timeout and 6:41 remaining in the half. The Buckeyes went up 18 after a Towns triple in transition found the bottom and the game would go scoreless over the next 2 ½ minutes before Illinois found the stroke from three to trim the lead to 37-22 at the final media timeout of the half. Justin Ahrens scored in the lane, when his short jumper was goaltended to put Ohio State up 16 and after an Illini triple, Sueing scored on a put back to put Ohio State up 16 and Ohio State had outscored Illinois 8-0 on second chance opportunities. Three Illini free throws cut the lead to 13 with just over 30 seconds remaining in the half, but Ohio State answered as Washington scored off the bounce with a scoop shot at the rim to end the half with Ohio State leading 43-28. A surprising first half for the Buckeyes, who led by as many as 18 thanks in no small part to 7 of 11 shooting from long range and 53% from the floor overall.  While the Buckeyes shot it well, Illinois did not but a lot of credit to the Ohio State defense, holding Illinois to just 40.7% from the floor and 3 of 10 from deep.  The biggest surprise however had to be the rebounding numbers as the Buckeyes dominated the glass in the first 20 minutes, outrebounding the bigger Illini 20-11. Ohio State was led by E.J. Liddell’s 13 and Seth Towns added 8 off the bench, all the while holding the second leading scorer in the Big Ten, Ayo Dosunmu to just 4 first half points.

Ohio State opened the second half with the basketball and they took advantage as Liddell hit his fourth triple of the game and the Buckeyes led by 18.  Illinois came back and in the blink of an eye, they were on a 10-2 run to cut the lead to 10. A Washington layup off the dribble drive put Ohio State back up 12, but after Illinois split a pair of free throws, Ohio State turned it over, their fourth already in the half, and Illinois scored to cut the lead to 9 at the first media timeout with Ohio State’s leading being carved to 50-41. An Illini bucket, their sixth straight make, cut the lead to seven before Kyle Young got to the rim for a score to increase the Buckeye advantage back to nine. Illinois was the beneficiary of an old-fashioned three-point play on their next possession and all of a sudden, it was a six-point game. E.J. Liddell scored the next four to put Ohio State back up 10 but an Illinois bucket trimmed the lead to eight and at the under 12 media timeout, Ohio State was clinging to a 56-48 lead. Ahrens buried a three from the left wing put Ohio State up 11 and Towns picked off an Illini pass and raced to the other end for a score while being fouled. Towns buried the free throw for the three-point play and the Buckeyes led by 14. Illinois cut it back to 12 briefly before Liddell scored on a put back opportunity to put Ohio State back up 14 with just under 10 minutes remaining. After an Illinois miss, the Illini called timeout with the Buckeyes owning an 8-0 run and possessing the basketball with a 14-point lead and 9:11 to play. A 5-0 Illini run cut the lead back to nine but facing backcourt pressure, Sueing found Justin Ahrens wide open on the left wing for a three and the Buckeyes were back up 12. An Illini bucket cut the lead to 10 and after an Illinois foul on a Zed Key layup attempt, the under 8 media timeout went into effect and with 6:37 to go, Ohio State led Illinois 67-57 with Key due to head the line for a pair. Key buried both free throws out of the break and Ohio State was back up 12. After a 4-0 Illinois run trimmed it back to 8, once again off of backcourt pressure, Ahrens found an opening from the left corner and bagged a triple to put Ohio State back up 11. An Illini bucket trimmed it back to nine and after an Ohio State miss and a foul on the other end, Illinois went to the line to try to cut the lead again following the last media timeout and with 3:39 to go, Ohio State led 74-65. Illinois made both free throws to cut the lead to seven but a short jumper and a free throw on separate possessions by Liddell bumped the lead back to 10.  The Illini scored the next five to cut it to five and with 1:30 to go, the Illini called timeout. Out of the timeout, Ohio State turned it over giving the ball back to Illinois but fortunately for the Buckeyes, the three point try clanged off target and Sueing was fouled after the rebound. Sueing split the free throws to put the Buckeyes up six with just under a minute to go.  A bucket by the Illini cut it to just 4 but only 48 seconds to play with Ohio State possessing the ball out of the timeout. Liddell was fouled immediately off the inbounds pass and E.J. split the pair giving Ohio State a 5 point lead. On the other end, a foul sent Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu to the line and he buried both to get Illinois within three with 33 seconds left. Sueing was fouled in the backcourt sending Sueing to the line where he calmly buried both giving Ohio State a 5 point lead. A pair of Dosunmu freebies cut the lead back to three but Washington answered with a pair of free throws of his own to put Ohio State right back up five. An Illinois triple cut the lead to just two with 15 seconds left but Washington buried another pair of free throws put the Buckeyes back up 4. After an Illinois miss, Musa Jallow nabbed the rebound and after being fouled, he buried both free throws to seal it.

Ohio State certainly came to play on this day, utilizing tremendous post defense on the Illini big center Kofi Cockburn, doubling down and recovering very well on the perimeter, frustrating Illinois for much of the day. Although Liddell had a big day, Ohio State once again was a balanced effort, getting contributions from multiple guys, which included 24 bench points. It’s a testament to the depth of this basketball team to be down a pair of point guards, including captain and team leader C.J. Walker, and continue to come together and win basketball games. The defensive effort, especially in the first half, on Dosunmu, although he ended up with 22, was a big key in building a lead too large for Illinois to overcome.  Ohio State also held Illinois, a good shooting team, to just 9 of 26 from deep, while hitting on 11 of their 21 attempts contributing to the massive win.

The Buckeyes will look to continue the momentum, hosting Purdue in the Schott on Tuesday evening at 6:30 and airing on BTN.


-Jason Harris

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