The No. 17 Ohio State men’s basketball team could not get out of its own way against Illinois. Whether it was foul trouble or turnovers, the Buckeyes did all they could to keep the Fighting Illini in the game.
Even with a 19-0 run to close out the first half, Ohio State could not pull away from Illinois and found itself trailing for 16:23 of the game.
However, Ohio State (20-5, 11-1 Big Ten) made a late push to retake the lead and come away with the 75-67 win against Illinois (12-12, 2-9 Big Ten), narrowly avoiding what would have been its biggest upset loss of the season.
“To respond like we did being down was really important for us and we knew it was going to be a game of some runs and a game of imperfection,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “Having a resilient approach was really important and the guys did that. They deserve a lot of credit.”
Trailing 63-60 with 4:31 remaining in the game, redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop drilled a 3 to tie both the game and his career high in points at 32. With 3:39 left in the game, freshman center Kaleb Wesson made a layup to give Ohio State the 65-63 lead. Ohio State finished the game on a 15-4 run to create separation from Illinois in the end.
The Buckeyes were carried once again by Bates-Diop, who set a new career high with 35 points. His 13 rebounds, which also led the game, gave him his 10th double-double of the season.
With 8:50 left in the second half, Illinois redshirt senior guard Mark Alstork was fouled on a made layup to tie the game at 52. He made the and-1 to give the Illini the 53-52 lead. He stole the ball on the Buckeyes’ next possession and passed it to freshman guard Mark Smith, who took a foul and made his two free throws to put Illinois up three.
Ohio State got off to an abysmal start against the Illini, falling into an early 28-13 hole. The Buckeyes quickly regained traction however, fighting back to a 34-30 lead with a 19-0 run over 9:50 to close out the first half. During that stretch, redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop scored 11 points.
Ohio State held Illinois scoreless during the final 10:11 of the half.
Starting in place of the suspended redshirt senior guard Kam Williams, sophomore forward Andre Wesson started the scoring off for Ohio State with a resounding one-handed dunk for the first basket of the game.
Just under four minutes into the game, however, Illinois went on a 17-2 run to pull ahead to a commanding 28-13 advantage. Ohio State battled back, continuing to show this season that even when it allows big runs, it has what it takes to come back from those deficits.
“I’m not the most confident guy at that point,” Holtmann said. “When you’ve watched Illinois there has been runs that they do a great job making on teams and then the way they play, it can lead to runs on both ends. I just didn’t think we had enough life to us defensively, but give Illinois credit. But having said that, we do have a pretty poised, confident group.”
The Buckeyes did what they needed to do to win. Though they never were able to create much separation from themselves and their opponents, they never gave up and pushed ahead to the eight-point lead late when it needed to ensure it avoided the same devastating loss to Penn State.
Ohio State turned the ball over 15 times and was called for 18 fouls during the game, compared to 11 and 23, respectively, by Illinois. The Fighting Illini converted those Buckeye turnovers into 16 points, whereas Ohio State managed 10 points off the Illinois turnovers.
Ohio State outrebounded Illinois 45-22 and held a 38-16 advantage in paint points. Ohio State also made 26-of-33 free throws in the win.
Ohio State hits the road for its biggest matchup of the year, traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana, to face No. 3 Purdue at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in a clash between the top two teams in the Big Ten.