Illinois-Ohio St. Preview
After being upset by Illinois in January, Ohio State recovered and finds itself in contention for the Big Ten title - even following another loss over the weekend.
For the Illini, that victory may end up being one of the few highlights of what could be coach Bruce Weber's final season.
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes will try to keep pace in the conference race when they host reeling Illinois on Tuesday night.
Ohio State lost two of its first five conference games, including 79-74 at Illinois on Jan. 10. While the Buckeyes (22-5, 10-4) had no answer for Illinois' Brandon Paul, who scored 43 points - third-most in program history - they figured things out soon after by winning six straight.
Now, after dropping two of three - both against Top 25 teams - Ohio State trails first-place and sixth-ranked Michigan State by one game. The Buckeyes are tied for second place with 11th-ranked Michigan.
Ohio State dropped into that tie after suffering a 56-51 loss in Ann Arbor on Saturday. The Buckeyes shot 38.8 percent while missing 13 of 16 attempts from 3-point range.
"We couldn't make a shot. We were running our offense, but we just couldn't make a shot," said Jared Sullinger, who finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting. "There are times when you don't make shots and can grind out a win, but when we didn't make shots tonight, we stopped playing defense."
Sullinger and his teammates also struggled in a 58-48 loss to the Spartans on Feb. 11, shooting a season-worst 26.4 percent.
One of the players that symbolizes Ohio State's recent shooting woes is William Buford. The senior guard was held to four points on 2-of-12 shooting against Michigan State and scored six against Michigan, going 3 of 12 from the field.
Buford had another tough game against Illinois. He finished with 15 points but shot 7 of 18 and had a critical turnover late that led to the Illini taking the lead for good.
Ohio State hasn't lost consecutive games in over two years, and it has a good chance to keep that streak going against a struggling Illinois team.
While the Illini (16-11, 5-9) opened 10-0 and won four of their first five Big Ten games, they are coming off a miserable week that saw their losing streak reach five, leaving their coach's future in jeopardy.
Illinois suffered its eighth loss in nine games after falling 80-57 at Nebraska on Saturday, coming apart as the Cornhuskers went on a 36-4 run spanning the two halves.
"Once they made the run, I think the weight of the world kind of caved in on our guys and there was no stopping," Weber said. "It was just one of those days."
Weber earlier in the week criticized himself and his players following a 67-62 home loss to Purdue. While he said he hopes to remain with the program, the team's collapse has put that into question.
"Everyone's sad," said D.J. Richardson, who scored a team-high 15 points Saturday. "A lot of people cried. It hurts."
One of the Illini that was visibly emotional on the sideline was sophomore Meyers Leonard, who was one of the players called out by Weber for his poor body language against the Boilermakers. The 7-foot-1 center had nine points and five rebounds Saturday.