Ohio State, Illinois heading opposite directions
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two programs with pretty high
standards met Tuesday night in a game both needed, but for different reasons.
The eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes delivered what’s become their typical
response, having entered the game 4-0 in games following a loss — and with all
four wins by double digits.
Illinois also delivered a performance which, suddenly, has also become typical.
Tuesday night’s 83-67 victory was a double-revenge game for the Buckeyes, who
were coming off a slow-paced loss at Michigan on Saturday and lost at Illinois
on Jan. 10. It was just the latest dud for the Illini, who have now lost nine
of 10 since rallying to beat Ohio State, 79-74, in Champaign. In the last two
weeks Illinois has gone from virtual NCAA Tournament lock to 10th place in the
Big Ten with a conference mark of 5-10.
This one was more therapeutic than statement-making for Ohio State. The
Buckeyes still have to host Wisconsin, play at a desperate Northwestern and face
Michigan State (another revenge game) on the road on the final day of the
The Illini look like a team wishing that final day was yesterday. Their latest
loss started at 7:06 p.m. and was over by 7:18. The Buckeyes made 11 of their
first 12 shots, jumping out to leads of 28-8 and 40-18. Jared Sullinger didn’t
even score in double figures for Ohio State, but three other Buckeyes did.
“We were able to get out and get some easy buckets because of our
defense,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “That was delightful to
see, trust me.”
Ohio State shot nearly 71 percent for the first half and 65 percent for the
game. The Illini shot under 40 percent for the game and 3 of 18 from behind the
3-point line. They’re shooting less than 30 percent from beyond the arc in
conference games, worst in the league. They’re the worst in league play at
defending the 3-point line, too.
“The thing that’s so frustrating for me is our defense,” Illinois
coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s something that carried us early in the year
and gave as a chance to win games, and now it’s not there.
“Unless the defense and the pride of the defense changes, nothing is going
Weber’s seat has been hot all month. Matta has just been hot around the collar
as the Buckeyes have struggled to score vs. good teams and are still trying
different personnel combinations with 12 days left in the regular season. Ohio
State has talent, and when the good William Buford shows up —he had 17 points
on 7-of-9 shooting Tuesday —the Buckeyes can still go up and down with anybody.
“When we’re hitting shots early, we feel like we’re unstoppable,”
Buford said. “Like nobody can beat us.”
The Buckeyes want pace, and they got it Tuesday night. Matta used a two-point-guard
lineup with freshman Shannon Scott seeing 22 minutes and dishing out four
assists. Deshaun Thomas went 6 of 8 from the field for a team-high 19 points
and also had five rebounds.
“They just have so many weapons,” Weber said. “You could see
they were in a zone.”
The Illinois freefall continued with every Ohio State shot that dropped. Three
nights after losing by 23 at Nebraska — yes, Nebraska — Illinois watched Ohio
State get open shots at will (and connect on a highlight-reel alley-oop from
Scott to fellow freshman Sam Thompson).
“It’s pride,” Weber said. “We had it early this year. We guarded
and we were tough.
“You go back to ’03,’04,’05,’06, those guys guarded. We got a lot of
credit for offense but when you really studied us we were pretty good
The Illini also have a negative rebounding margin and turnover margin in
conference play. They won the turnover battle Tuesday, but only because Ohio
State got sloppy long after the game had been decided.
It was decided very early. The Buckeyes shouldn’t be written off yet, but they
still have plenty of proving to do. Their opponent Tuesday night, frankly,
didn’t put up much of a fight.