#22 Ohio State Fends Off Late Rally, Upsets #15 Illinois in Champaign
22nd ranked Ohio State used a 22-4 run late in the first half and starting the second half to build a big lead and fended off a late Illinois scramble to defeat #15 Illinois in Champaign 86-83. Malaki Branham led Ohio State with 31, while E.J. Liddell added 21 and Kyle Young 18 for the Buckeyes who move to 18-7 and 11-5 in conference play. The loss dropped Illinois to 19-8 and 12-5 in Big Ten action. The Buckeyes built a lead as big as 16, coming back from 13 down early, only to see Illinois close it to just 1 in the closing seconds, but made enough plays to escape with the win. Ohio State shot it at a 52% clip, including 6 of 12 from long range, while Illinois hit 47.6% of their shot attempts including 12 of 25 from downtown. Illinois was led by Alfonso Plummer’s 26, while getting 14 from Jacob Grandison, 12 from Kofi Cockburn and 10 from Coleman Hawkins in the loss.
Illinois got off to a fast start thanks to 3 triples by Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer and led 12-5 at the first media timeout. The Buckeyes points coming from an old fashioned three point play by Malaki Branham and a jump hook mid lane by Kyle Young. Kofi Cockburn increased the Illini lead, tipping in his own miss before Young drilled a triple to cut into the lead. Another Cockburn bucket, a jump hook mid lane and Illinois had doubled up Ohio State, 16-8. Another Illinois hoop increased the Illini lead and at the under 12 media timeout, it was all Illinois, leading Ohio State 18-8. Another Plummer triple out of the timeout increased the Illinois lead but Ohio State cut into that lead when E.J. Liddell scored on a turnaround jumper in the lane and on the next possession, Justin Ahrens drilled a three from the right corner. Illinois stopped the mini Ohio State run with a tip dunk to go back up 10, but Young drove baseline and scored and then Branham got a jumper to fall as the Buckeyes were on a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to 6. Just before the under 8 media timeout, Illinois was charged with a flagrant 1 personal foul as Ahrens took an elbow to the face and Ahrens buried both free throws to cut the lead to 4. The Buckeyes trimmed the lead to 3 when Branham split a pair of freebies and Ohio State was on a 12-2 run. A Branham jumper cut the deficit to 1, but a Cockburn bucket ended the Buckeye spurt and put Illinois up 3. After a Buckeye turnover, an Illinois score in transition put the Illini up 5, but Young drilled a triple from the right wing to trim the Illini lead to 2. Another Plummer triple put Illinois back up 5, but Liddell found the bottom from the left wing for three and at the under 4 media timeout, Illinois led Ohio State 30-28. Yet another Plummer three out of the timeout put Illinois back ahead 5 and they went ahead 7 when Cockburn scored at the rim after clearing space with his elbow. A pair of Branham free throws cut into the lead once again, but another Illini bucket answered. A Young jump hook in the lane cut the lead to 5 and a Liddell jump hook was goal tended for two as he was fouled and Liddell knocked down the freebie to cut the lead to two. Young split a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to one with just 34 seconds remaining in the half. After an Illinois 30 second timeout, a shot clock violation gave the ball back to Ohio State with just over 3 seconds left in the half and Meechie Johnson’s long three clanged off the mark and at the half Illinois led Ohio State 37-36. The Buckeyes, after a slow start shooting, hitting just 3 of their first 13, hit 9 of their final 14 to finish the half at 44%, including 4 of 7 from long range, while Illinois hit 44%, including 6 of 12 from deep. Ohio State was led by Kyle Young’s 13 points and 5 rebounds, while Malaki Branham added 10 and E.J. Liddell, 8. Illinois’ Alfonso Plummer hit 6 triples to lead all scorers with 18, while Kofi Cockburn added 9.
The Buckeyes took their first lead of the game as Liddell drilled a jumper to open the second half scoring. After an offensive foul on Cockburn, Branham took a dribble drive to the rim and dunked with power to put Ohio State up 3. After a Liddell block on the defensive end, E.J. nailed a 12 footer and Illinois called timeout with 18:14 left in the game that Ohio State now led 42-37 and on a 12-0 run dating back to the end of the first half. Illinois got their first score of the second half, getting a steal and score in transition, but Liddell split a pair of freebies to put Ohio State up 4. After an Illini miss, Young tipped in a Liddell miss to put the Buckeyes up 6 and after another Illinois miss, Branham drilled a three from the left point to put the Buckeyes up 9. Another Branham silky smooth jumper put the Buckeyes up 11 and Illinois took another timeout with Ohio State ballooning their lead to 50-39. A Zed Key tip in increased the lead but a long Illinois triple cut the lead to 10. A Branham floater dropped and a technical foul on Illinois coach Brad Underwood who lost his mind on the sideline. Liddell bagged both technical free throws to put Ohio State up 14 and after Cockburn had the ball stolen, Cedric Russell hit a short jumper and the Buckeyes were up 16. A Cockburn old-fashioned three point play cut the lead to 13 but on the other end Key drew the fourth personal on Cockburn sending the teams to the benches for the under 12 media timeout with Ohio State leading 58-45. Out of the timeout, Key split his free throws, but a backdoor lay up by Illinois cut the lead to 12. Another Branham score answered, but an Illinois 6-0 run cut the lead to 9. Russell ended the run with a three from the left wing and Ohio State was up 11. A pair of Branham free throws increased the lead to 13, but an Illinois three cut it back to 10 and at the under 8 media timeout, Ohio State led Illinois 66-56. A Liddell turn around jumper fell, increasing the lead, but an Illinois back door lay in kept the lead at 10. Branham got to the rim for a score and after an offensive foul on Illinois, the Illini coach went ballistic on the sidelines and was ejected from the game. Branham drilled both technical free throws and Branham got to the rim for a reverse lay-in and the Buckeyes were up 16. An Illini free throw cut the lead to 15 with 5:37 to go. A Plummer triple cut the lead to 12 and Ohio State took a timeout, leading 74-62 with 4:52 to play. Out of the timeout, Cockburn pushed Young and picked up his fifth and disqualifying foul and Young buried the pair to put the Buckeyes up 14. An Illini bucket cut it to 12 and at the final media timeout of the game, Ohio State led Illinois 76-64. A pair of Illinois free throws out of the timeout cut the lead to 10, but two Jamari Wheeler free throws after Illinois surprisingly fouled at the timeline, increased the lead back to 12. Another Plummer triple cut the lead to 9 and after an offensive foul on Wheeler, Illinois’ Trent Frazier was fouled attempting a three and knocked down all three to cut the lead to just 6. After an Ohio State turnover, Illinois got a score and another Ohio State turnover and Illinois cut it to just two with 1:49 to play. Two Branham free throws upped the lead to four, but a pair of Illini free throws cut the lead back to two. Liddell hit a big time fade away jumper, but Illinois once again answered and Ohio State took a timeout with 41.5 seconds left and leading 82-80. Liddell was sent to the stripe with 32 seconds left and he calmly nailed both to put Ohio State up 4. An Illinois triple cut the lead to 1 with 14.6 left and Illinois took a timeout. Young was fouled and went to the stripe and split the pair and Illinois turned it over with 4 seconds to go. Russell got fouled with 2 seconds to go and Cedric split the pair and an Illinois halfcourt heave at the horn banged off target and the Buckeyes escaped.
The Buckeyes did everything they needed to in this game to get a win, although they need to do a better job closing, they did what they had to do and it started on the defensive end especially in the post on Cockburn. They made it very uncomfortable for him, digging down at every opportunity and limiting Illinois’ second chance opportunities. The play of not only Branham and Liddell, who have become to be counted on game in and game out, but Kyle Young’s play on both ends off the bench was pivotal in this basketball game. The Buckeyes have put themselves in a good spot heading down the stretch of the Big Ten season to potentially have an outside shot to gain a conference title, but put themselves in a good spot to get that double bye in the Big Ten tournament by finishing in the top 4 of the conference. They have one more on the road before heading home for three to close the season.
Next up for the Buckeyes will be their final road game of the year as they head to College Park, Maryland for a matchup with the Terps on Sunday afternoon. The game is scheduled to tip at 4 PM and airing on CBS.