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Ohio State finds little fight remaining in Fighting Illini

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

As the Ohio State men’s basketball team lost two out of its last three games, coach Thad Matta kept saying his team was getting open shots, but just weren’t hitting them.

That ended Tuesday.

The Buckeyes came out on fire from the floor and thrashed Illinois, 83-67.

“It was obviously good to see the ball go in early,” Matta said. “I thought we had good shots and ball movement.”

OSU connected on 11 of its first 12 attempts from the field, and the lone miss in the span was followed by a tip-slam from sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. The stretch included a high-flying tomahawk dunk by freshman guard Sam Thompson off of an alley-oop from freshman guard Shannon Scott and a three-point play from sophomore guard Aaron Craft.

When Scott missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key and the run ended, OSU led, 28-10, with just less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half.

“We were so ready,” Thomas said. “That’s what practice does. We were working in our footwork in practice and we made shots in the game.”

OSU went into the locker room at half with a 42-26 lead having shot 71 percent from the floor, including 71 percent from behind the arc.

Illinois beat the Buckeyes in their first meeting on Jan. 10. On that night, Illinois junior guard Brandon Paul went off for 43 points including a dagger 3-pointer with under a minute remaining to topple the Buckeyes.

But Paul and the Illini have struggled to stay on track ever since. Including Tuesday’s loss to OSU, Illinois has lost nine of their past ten games.

Paul couldn’t replicate his prior heroics against the Buckeyes. He shot two for nine from the floor at the Schottenstein Center and finished with nine points.

“They locked into him right away,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. “Craft guarded him and just never let him get going. They were just more energized defensively.”

Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas and senior forward William Buford led the way for OSU in scoring.

Thomas, who led the Buckeyes with 25 points in OSU’s loss to Michigan Saturday, finished with 19 points and five rebounds.

“It felt great,” Thomas said. “We just listened to coach. They prepare us and its up to us to come out and show up and that’s what we did. It felt great to be scoring the ball and getting out in transition.”

Buford has been criticized for inconsistent play as of late. He shot a combined 5-of-24 from the field in OSU’s two most recent losses, but rebounded with a seven for nine shooting performance against the Illini totaling 17 points.

“Today we were getting easy shots and we were able to knock them down,” Buford said. “We had a great pace to us today.”

As a team, OSU shot 65.3 percent. Tuesday’s game marks the first time the Buckeyes have shot better than 50 percent from the floor since Feb. 7 against Purdue.

The win brings OSU’s record to 23-5 and 11-4 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes still trail Michigan State (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) in the Big Ten Standings.

OSU next plays No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday. Tipoff at the Schottenstein Center is set for 4 p.m.  The contest is the Buckeyes’ last home game of the season. 

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