It took overtime to decide, but the Ohio State men’s basketball team was able to take down Illinois on the road Thursday night 68-63 at the State Farm Center.
After trailing for nearly all of the second half, the Fighting Illini engineered a 15-2 run in the final six minutes of regulation to push the game to extra time. A back-and-forth five minutes ensued, but freshman guard JaQuan Lyle, who came off the bench for the second straight game for OSU, hit a pair of clutch free throws to make it a three-point game with 14 seconds left.
With no timeouts remaining, Illinois inbounded the ball and looked to set up a game-tying shot attempt, but confusion on the dribble handoff led to OSU’s sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop stealing the rock.
A bizarre sequence followed, as Fighting Illini players looked to foul but the officials swallowed their whistles, opting to let the teams play. The Buckeyes were able to advance the ball past the timeline to Mickey Mitchell.
The freshman forward drove all the way to the hoop and connected on a layup with four ticks remaining to ice the game for OSU.
With the win, the Buckeyes advance to 14-8 on the year and 6-3 in conference play, while the Illini sink to 10-11 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten.
“I’m just happy we won the basketball game,” OSU coach Thad Matta told Big Ten Network’s Seth Davis after the game. “It holds true to my theory that we’ve got a long way to go, but this was a great win for us … Turning the halfway (point in Big Ten play) is a heck of a accomplishment for this team.”
Balance was the key for the Buckeyes, as three players reached double figures in the scoring column. Leading that trio was redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson, who had a career-high 16 points and five rebounds.
Bates-Diop and junior forward Marc Loving each registered a double-double to complement Thompson’s career night.
Bates-Diop, an Illinois native, had 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting and 12 rebounds, while Loving chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds.
A commanding advantage on the glass was key for OSU to grab the victory. After starting the game in an 8-0 hole, the Buckeyes fought their way through a poor-shooting first half to hold a 29-24 lead at halftime.
At halftime alone, OSU outrebounded Illinois 30-14, including an 11-1 advantage on the offensive glass. Those margins inflated to 51-34 and 13-5, respectively.
With the massive rebounding advantage, OSU was able to get itself more offensive opportunities, which was critical in a game in which both teams struggled to shoot at a high clip. The Buckeyes shot just 39 percent for the game, while the Illini countered with 32 percent from the field.
The extra possessions helped alleviate the burdens caused by the Buckeyes’ turnover issues. For the game, they had 14, but down the stretch it was the turnovers and defensive lapses that helped the Illini shave down OSU’s 13-point lead to force overtime.
“We made mistake after mistake defensively,” Matta said. “Then (on offense), the turnovers, I don’t know.”
Despite the catastrophic meltdown in regulation, the Buckeyes were able to regain their composure once overtime began. Bates-Diop, building off his 22-point performance against Penn State, was aggressive in the extra time, scoring four of his 15 points there.
Thompson, who, along with Lyle, came off the bench for the second consecutive game after Matta opted to start freshman Daniel Giddens at center, was critical all game long. His basket in overtime helped fend off a fervent Illinois squad.
The game was littered with runs by both teams. Illinois opened the game with an 8-0 spurt, but the Buckeyes countered, holding the Illini to just one field goal in the final 11 minutes of the first half to take the lead at the break.
OSU grew its lead in the opening 10 minutes of the second half before squandering it away. For a team dominated by inexperienced players, this is the type of victory that develops character, Thompson said.
“We grew up a lot tonight,” he told Davis. “Our past road games haven’t gone as well, and in certain situations, we would have folded, but in this situation, we just came together.”
A.J. Harris started in place of Lyle again Thursday, but his performance against the Illini did not mirror the one he churned in against Penn State. The freshman guard had three points on 1-of-5 shooting and one assist.
Junior guard Kendrick Nunn lead the way for Illinois with 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Malcolm Hill, who was the Illini’s leading scorer heading into the contest, was largely held in check by sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate. Hill, a junior, had a dozen points but a less-than-stellar 3-of-14 shooting performance.
Although both Matta and Thompson were pleased with the victory,
OSU has a large test ahead of it. The Buckeyes are scheduled to take on No. 8 Maryland, which defeated third-ranked Iowa on Thursday, at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m.
Correction 1/29: The headline has been updated to reflect the correct final score.