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Second-half surge leads No. 20 Ohio State men’s basketball team to 77-61 win over Illinois

OSU sophomore forward Marc Loving drives to the hoop during a game against Illinois on Jan. 3 in Columbus. Photo credit: Kelly Roderick / For The Lantern

OSU sophomore forward Marc Loving drives to the hoop during a game against Illinois on Jan. 3 in Columbus. Photo credit: Kelly Roderick / For The Lantern

Not all scoring runs are the same. Some can come in a game that is already decided, while others could prove to be the most important sequence in a game.

The No. 20 Ohio State men’s basketball team’s 15-0 run in the second half Saturday fell into the latter category, as the the Buckeyes came from behind to beat Illinois, 77-61, at the Schottenstein Center.

OSU (12-3, 1-1) was coming off a loss to Iowa in its Big Ten opener, and things didn’t look positive for the team once again as it trailed the Illini (10-5, 0-2) by three early in the second half. But a block by senior center Trey McDonald and a 3-pointer from freshman guard D’Angelo Russell set the tone for OSU’s second half.

Matta said after the game that increased offensive output and execution were key to the run.

“I think just our activity, we were able to get out and get some deflections, get the ball going or get out and run in transition,” Matta said. “We were making some changes throughout the course of the game, guys did a great job coming out of timeouts and running what we were drawing up.”

The win means coach Thad Matta’s team avoided becoming the first Buckeye squad since 1998 to begin its conference schedule with two losses.

Senior forward Sam Thompson said the importance of a win against the Illini was clear.

“We knew it was a must-win game. Anytime you’re at home, and especially anytime you’re at home in our conference it’s a must-win game,” Thompson said. “It’s so important to protect home court because we know every time we go on the road it’s a battle.”

OSU’s loss to Iowa four days earlier came in part because of a strong start from the Hawkeyes. During that game, the Buckeyes found themselves down 10 points less than five minutes into the contest.

Saturday’s game was much closer in the early stages, as OSU led 7-5 at 16:44 mark, and Thompson said postgame that getting off to a better start was a point of emphasis during the week.

“We’ve talked about, for the last few days, not getting ourselves into that 12, 15, 18, 20-point hole,” Thompson said. “We really wanted to come out playing in the first half the way that we do in the second half, and I think we did a better job of that today.”

After that, the Illini began to hold a steady lead thanks to their 3-point shooting.

The visitors finished the first half eight for 15 from behind the 3-point arc, while the Buckeyes only managed to connect on three of their nine attempts.

Illinois led by three midway through the first half when a 5-0 run by OSU gave Matta’s team its first lead in nearly seven minutes. But the Fighting Illini’s leading scorer, redshirt-senior guard Rayvonte Rice, helped to give his team control once again as he led all scorers with 14 points in the first half.

The Buckeyes, who led the Big Ten in field goal percentage entering Saturday’s game, shot 59.1 percent from the field in the first half and ended the period on a 10-4 run, but still trailed 37-36.

Russell led the team with nine points in the opening 20 minutes, but also committed five of the Buckeyes’ nine turnovers. The Fighting Illini managed to score 16 points off of those giveaways.

The second half began with the Illini pushing their lead to three, but Russell then hit the basket that tied the game at 44 and started OSU’s second-half surge. The Buckeyes never trailed from that point on.

Another feature of the second half was OSU switching from a zone defense to a man-to-man scheme, as the Illini were held to 24 points after the change. Matta said the change was made to try and combat the high-percentage shooting by Illinois.

“They shot us out of it, to be honest with you. It’s like we told our guys: it wasn’t like they were shooting 21-footers, they were shooting from 24 feet and they were going in,” Matta said. “So that was the biggest thing. They just shot us out of it.”

As the team shifted tactics in its own end, Russell and sophomore forward Marc Loving led the OSU comeback with 19 points between them in the second half. Illinois committed 13 turnovers in that same span, while cooling off from the 3-point line by making just one of its nine attempts.

Russell, who only had 13 points in the loss to Iowa, finished Saturday’s game with 22 to lead all players. The Louisville, Ky., native credited extra work over the intervening days with helping him to improve his game.

“Extra work, just extra reps on my own time,” Russell said. “I know when my shot’s not falling and when it is, and during the Iowa game I knew it just wasn’t my day, so (it was) just extra reps.”

His coach also said the additional practice helped Russell get things right.

“Just watching the work he’s put in from Wednesday to today, it’s no surprise to me that he played well,” Matta said.

On the boards, Loving had a game-high eight rebounds to go along with 13 points, tied for second on the Buckeye roster.

Rice finished with 20 points, but also committed an intentional foul that aided the Buckeye comeback.

The Buckeyes are set for their first road game of the Big Ten season on Tuesday at Minnesota. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. in Minneapolis.

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