In a game that wasn't as close as the final score Thad Matta's squad withstood a late 20-8 Illini run to escape with a 64-58 victory to end a three game losing streak.
All signs pointed to a blowout W after Kosta Koufos hit a triple to put OSU in front 53-38 with 8:55 to play but the season long problem of sustaining offense reared its head once again as the Buckeyes managed just two field goals the rest of the way featuring the typical rushed shot selection we've seen too many times before.
In the last 9 minutes, OSU shot 2/7 from the floor and 2/7 from the stripe allowing Illinois to cut the lead to 61-58 with :32 left before David Lighty made the play of the game grabbing Kosta Koufos' second straight missed free throw. The Illini had no choice but to foul and Lighty promptly buried both free throws to give the Buckeyes a decisive 63-58 lead.
Lighty's clutch free throws gave him a team high 16 points on the night to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 dimes. Of course, no Lighty statline would be complete without mentioning the 4 turnovers but I'll take it considering this marked the first time since mid December (CSU/FLA) that he produced back to back games with at least 10 points.
Supporting Lighty, Evan Turner turned in another solid performance with 14 points on 6/8 shooting against just 2 turnovers in 34 minutes while Koufos added 12 points and 4 boards.
Jamar Butler was again held in check scoring just 7 points but the senior from Lima was effective in other areas notching 7 boards, 4 assists and 4 steals. Butler has now scored less than 10 points in back to back games and 4 of the last 6 as teams concentrate on limiting his touches forcing the younger players to fill the void.
For the game, OSU shot a blistering 55% from the field including 62% in the first half as the Buckeyes built a 33-23 lead.
The lead would slowly shrink, however, as the Buckeyes surrendered 16 offensive rebounds to offset poor shooting from the Illini. Overall, OSU lost the battle on the glass 30-24 and committed 15 turnovers while forcing 13.
On the bright side, the Buckeyes improved to 28-1 when Matt Terwilliger scores at least 4 points. The offensive machine from Troy poured in 5 points including a big three giving OSU a 50-35 cushion with with 11:04 to play.
That's all I've got for you tonight as it's way past my bedtime. I'm starting to think I wronged the Big Ten Network and Time Warner in a former life. Watching the games at a local watering hole sounds like a good idea until the beers start flowing on a Tuesday but it was worth it considering the victory and that I ran into a fan who follows the Buckeyes as passionately as all of you making the game more fun to watch.
Next up, TubbyTime at the Schott this Saturday.