Finally! Buckeyes Stop 9 Game Losing Streak, Drop Illinois

Ohio State stopped a 9 game losing streak, breaking through and finishing February on a high note, building a lead as large as 15 before fending off an Illini second half run to down visiting Illinois 72-60. In the best 40 minutes of basketball in a long time, Ohio State utilized a dominant effort in the half court defensively, forcing Illinois to struggle to get into their offensive sets and that connectivity defensively allowed Ohio State to be in the right position to get out in transition to score on a number of occasions before the Illini could get settled to put forth an effort that was a long time coming. The Buckeyes held Illinois to just 36% shooting, while connecting on 54% themselves and out rebounding the Illini 40-28 to complete a total 40 minute effort.  The Buckeyes played primarily with a small lineup and the quickness advantage led to a 46-28 plus margin on points in the paint for an Ohio State team who took a lead with 15:20 to play in the first half and never trailed again. Bruce Thornton led Ohio State with 20 points and 5 rebounds, while Justice Sueing completed a double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Brice Sensabaugh also added 14 points and 6 rebounds. Illinois was led by Coleman Hawkins who scored 14, while Matthew Mayer added 11 and Jayden Epps and Terrence Shannon chipped in 10 each. 

Illinois scored the first five before a pair of Bruce Thornton jumpers pulled Ohio State to within a point. Ohio State grabbed their first lead when Felix Okpara scored at the rim. Another Thornton jumper extended the lead before an Illinois triple stopped the 8-0 Buckeye run and tied the game. Thornton found Roddy Gayle who cut back door and flushed it home to put Ohio State back in front and at the first media timeout, the Buckeyes led the Illini 10-8. After Illinois split a pair of free throws, a Sensabaugh jumper and three free throws on consecutive possessions extended the Buckeye lead to 6. More Buckeyes as stifling half court defense forced Illinois into just one shot on multiple possessions and Thornton got to the rim off a dribble drive for two off the window forcing Illinois to call timeout with the Buckeyes on a 7-0 run and leading 17-9 with 11:54 to play in the first half. An Illini turnover led to a Justice Sueing lay up in transition, but Illinois quickly raced the other way and scored with a dunk to stop the 9-0 Ohio State run. Ohio State answered with Eugene Brown grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring with a put back. An Illinois three cut the lead to 7, but Sueing scored from point blank range with a leaner to answer. Following an Illinois miss, Ohio State got back out in transition and Gayle got into the paint off the bounce and kicked out to the trailer, Brown, who drilled a three and Ohio State was up 12. A Buckeye turnover led to a dunk on a break out by Illinois and a foul sent the team to the benches for the under 8 and with 6:40 to play in the first 20 minutes, Ohio State was ahead 26-16. Illinois missed the freebie and Sean McNeil drilled a three from the left wing to put the Buckeyes up 13. An Illini deuce was answered by Sueing’s score from the left block off the window. After another Illini score, McNeil scored with the left hand high off the window and at the under 4 media timeout, Ohio State led Illinois 33-20. Out of the timeout, Illinois split a pair of free throws but Ice Likekele found Thornton cutting back door from the right wing for a lay up. Illinois came back with a highly contested triple to cut the lead to 11. Thornton answered with a triple from the top and after a quick Illini bucket, Ohio State took a 30 second timeout, leading 38-26 with 45 seconds left in the half. Out of the timeout, Sensabaugh got to the rim off the bounce and scored off the window and with a foul, he knocked down the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three point play and with time running out in the half, Illinois drilled a contested three to send the teams to the locker room with Ohio State leading 41-29 in the best half of basketball in a long time for the Buckeyes. Despite turning it over 9 times, leading to an 8-4 Illinois advantage on points off turnovers, Ohio State played aggressive and connected half court defense, holding Illinois to just 37% shooting including just 5 of 15 from beyond the arc. Ohio State shot it at a 61% clip, including 3 of 7 from long range, while dominating the glass, out rebounding Illinois 23-9. Bruce Thornton led all scorers in the first 20 minutes with 13, while Illinois was led by Coleman Hawkins, who dropped in 10. Brice Sensabaugh added 8 points and 4 rebounds and Justice Sueing chipped in 6 points and 5 rebounds for the Buckeyes.

In their initial set to open the half, Sueing threw the alley oop to Okpara who flushed it home to increase the lead to 14. After a long two by Illinois, Sensabaugh hit a fade away jumper just below the stripe to answer. A 4-0 Illinois run sent the game to the under 16 media timeout with Ohio State leading 45-35 as Illinois was all over the glass, grabbing 10 rebounds in the first 4 plus minutes of the second half. An old fashioned three point play cut the lead to 7 with 15:30 to play. Illinois kept the run going. After a Buckeye miss, another old-fashioned three point play cut the lead to just 4 and Illinois on a 10-0 run. A short jumper by Brown stopped the run and increased the Buckeye lead to 6. A taunting technical foul on Brown after he stripped the ball put the Illini at the stripe where both shots dropped to trim the lead back to 4. A Sean McNeil runner mid-paint dropped to extend the lead and after Isaac Likekele took a charge on the other end, the teams hit the benches for the under 12 with Ohio State leading 49-43. A 4-0 Illini run trimmed the lead to 2, the closest Illinois had been since the score was 10-8. A Sueing rebound of a missed three and put back stopped the run and after Ohio State turned it over with a chance to extend the lead, Illinois took a timeout at the 9:09 mark and Ohio State leading 51-47. Illinois cut the game back to 2 before Likekele found McNeil cutting back door along the right baseline for a dunk, bringing the crowd to their feet creating a buzz in the arena. An Illini turnover on the other end sent the game to the under 8 media timeout with the Buckeyes on top 53-49. An Illini triple cut the lead to just 1, but the Buckeyes answered when Sueing tipped in his own miss. After an Illini miss, the Buckeyes got out in transition and Sensabaugh finished with a posterizing dunk bringing the crowd to their feet. With the crowd buzzing, the Illini turned it over with a bad pass and Sensabaugh drilled a short fade away jumper forcing Illinois to take a timeout with 5:15 to play and Ohio State leading 59-52. Out of the timeout, a poor foul call on Gayle, who cleanly blocked a shot put Illinois to the stripe with the crowd loudly booing. Illinois split the pair to trim the lead to 6. A Thornton jumper extended the lead and after a defensive stop, Thornton spun into the lane and scored while being fouled and with 3:57 to play and the final media timeout, Ohio State was on top 63-53 and on a 10-1 run. Thornton completed the old-fashioned three point play out of the timeout to extend the lead to 11. Illinois stopped the run, completing an and one opportunity to trim the lead to 8 and after a turnover, Illinois got out in transition where Sueing stripped the ball and tipped it back in play to Sensabaugh. Sueing then scored in the halfcourt, spinning to the rim for two and after Ohio State forced another turnover, Illinois leading scorer Terrence Shannon picked up his 5th and disqualifying foul. Chris Holtmann took a timeout to calm his team with 2:16 left to play and the Buckeyes leading 66-56. A foul sent Sueing to the stripe, where he calmly drilled both, putting the Buckeyes up 12 and firmly in control. A foul on the other end put Illinois to the stripe where both dropped, cutting the lead back to 10. Facing backcourt pressure, Ohio State was whistled for a 10 second violation, but fortunately for the Buckeyes, a defensive stop put the ball back into the hands of the Buckeyes who got the ball in the forecourt before calling a timeout with 1:20 to play. Illinois began playing the foul game, sending Thornton to the stripe for the one and one where he missed the front end. After an Illinois miss, Thornton whipped a ¾ court pass to Brown, who flushed it home to put the Buckeyes up 12 with less than a minute to play. An Illini deuce and a foul in the backcourt put Thornton back to the stripe for another one and one and this time he buried the pair to put an exclamation point on his and Ohio State’s afternoon as there would be no more scoring in the Buckeye win.

We all knew they were capable of playing at this level and today they showed it. Ohio State has a myriad of weapons, but playing with 4 freshmen, who lead the conference in freshman minutes, there has been a lot of growing pains. The youth gained confidence on this day and showed how good they are capable of being and how bright the future could be for this program. Behind the freshmen Bruce Thortnon and Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State flexed their young muscle for 40 minutes and played their best game as a group in an awfully long time and they were finally rewarded with one in the left column. The effort has never been a question for this group and today they were able to build a lead and showed a lot of growth as Illinois cut the lead to as close as 1, before a late 11-1 run created separation and completed the win. Fans have been down on this team and rightly so, but if they can just stick with this young group, their patience will be rewarded because they are going to win a lot of basketball games and games like this are just a tip of the iceberg going forward. It took a big win over Illinois in Thad Matta’s first season to begin the rise and re-establishing of a contender and maybe this win will be the beginning of that type of resurgence for this group. It won’t be this season, but next year and beyond, things could be very exciting.  For now, they will get one more home game to say goodbye to a group of seniors who have represented the program in a first class way whether it be in 4 years like Justice Sueing or just one as is the case for Isaac Likekele and Sean McNeil. 

Ohio State takes the floor in the home finale on Wednesday evening, hosting Maryland for Senior night. Tip time is scheduled for 7 PM and airing on BTN. 

-Jason Harris

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