WIth a six-point deficit heading into the final two minutes of the game, senior guard C.J. Jackson was unfazed with the rest of his game. Going into the possession, he had seven turnovers, leading a Buckeye team that had been plagued by turnovers.
As he took the ball out, trailing 57-51, Jackson found a hole, driving to the hoop and drawing a foul, bringing the Buckeyes to within four. Two free throws by freshman guard Luther Muhammad lessened Ohio State’s deficit to three with 57 seconds remaining in the game.
But Jackson’s seven turnovers ended up as more detrimental than the sign of life the Buckeyes had in the final minute, as Illinois beat Ohio State 62-56 in its first road win of the season.
Illinois forced 18 turnovers in Thursday’s game, coming in as the best in the Big Ten in both steals and turnovers. The Fighting Illini finished with 14 points off turnovers.
In the first half, the Buckeyes, averaging 13 turnovers per game, recorded 10 turnovers, as the Fighting Illini scored 10 points off Ohio State’s mistakes.
Senior guard C.J. Jackson recorded four of Ohio State’s 10 turnovers in the first half.
He finished the game with a team-leading 17 points, making only 4-of-9 from the field while connecting on 8-of-11 from the free-throw line.
Illinois continued to force Ohio State to make mistakes in the second half as the Buckeyes recorded eight turnovers in the second half. The Fighting Illini scored only four points off those turnovers.
Junior forward Andre Wesson credited the Illinois defense for the kind of pressure it put on Ohio State, forcing them to improvise on the offensive end.
“It’s real tough,” Wesson said. “They are always in the passing lanes. It’s hard to reverse the ball and, kind of, get to the other side. That’s kind of what we predicate our offense on, so it was hard for us.”
After making 10-of-28 attempts in the first half of its 55-52 win against Indiana on Sunday, the Buckeyes came out to a slow start again against the Fighting Illini. Ohio State shot 38.1 percent from the field in the first half, making 2-of-6 from 3.
But the last 3 was an important one.
Playing with a six-point deficit heading into the final minute of the half, sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson pulled up for a 3, his second attempt of the day, and drilled it, cutting the Illinois lead to 30-27 heading into halftime.
However, in a tight game, Andre Wesson said a team cannot play from behind trading shots with the opponent.
“We just couldn’t get stops,” Andre Wesson said. “It was just back-and-forth there for awhile. When you are down, you can’t go back and forth. You have to get stops.”
Wesson was the only bright spot for the Buckeyes in the first half. He led the team with nine points, shooting 60 percent from the field and recording three rebounds.
With 2:19 remaining in the game, Wesson fouled out, the fifth time he has done so in the past 10 games. He finished the game with 11 points, making 3-of-7 from the field with five rebounds.
Wesson has finished with four or more fouls in 11 of the past 14 games.
Other than Wesson, Ohio State made five of its 16 shot attempts from the field in the first half.
After making 8-of-21 attempts in the first half, the Buckeyes overcame a seven-point second half deficit, tying the game at 40 on a 7-0 run.
Trailing Illinois 44-40 with 10:04 left in the game, the freshman guard recorded a dunk to bring the Buckeyes to within two. A minute later, Washington, on a fastbreak, soared for a dunk, earning a trip to the line, giving Ohio State the 45-44 lead.
But the Ohio State cooled off, ending the half shooting 36.2 percent from the field and missing all seven attempts from 3.
Holtmann said he felt the 3s were the end result of Illinois making Ohio State change its offensive approach.
“I thought some of them were clean and I felt some of them were rushed,” Holtmann said. “I thought they did a good job taking us out of our offense.”
In his 15 minutes off the bench, sophomore forward Kyle Young fouled out with 8:40 left in the game. He finished with four points, five rebounds and an assist.
Ohio State and Illinois combined for 45 fouls on Thursday night. The Buckeyes hit 80 percent of their free throws while the Fighting Illini made 9-of-17.
Even though Holtmann saw glimpses of what Jackson could be, saw a glimpse of what a comeback would be in the final minute of the game, the previous 39 minutes and his struggles with turnovers were what led to the loss.
“Seven turnovers is a lot, I don’t question how hard he competed,” Holtmann said. “I thought he competed, it was just those turnovers were critical.”
Ohio State will travel to East Lansing, Michigan to take on Michigan State Sunday at 1 p.m.
Updated at 10:23 with quotes from junior forward Andre Wesson and head coach Chris Holtmann.