Buckeyes Dump Illinois to Halt Four-Game Skid

By Kyle Rowland on January 23, 2014 at 9:01p

Well, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. But Ohio State put an end to a hideous two-week stretch that included four consecutive losses. In dispatching Illinois 62-55, the Buckeyes continued shooting poorly but reverted back to their stingy defense.

The Illini shot 41.2 percent from the field and turned the ball over 15 times. During its four-game losing streak, 17th-ranked Ohio State allowed three teams to shoot better than 45 percent, including two that connected on more than half their field goal attempts. It was a far cry from where the Buckeye defense was their first 15 games.

Rayvonte Rice, the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer, finished with zero points, three turnovers and four fouls.

“We did not play perfect, but I loved our energy on defense,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “We played extremely hard on defense and got back to rotating. Offensively, the first half was rough. However, the kids had a different look in their eyes this game. Our problem is not solved, we have a long way to go.”

Prior to Thursday’s game, Sam Thompson pointed out defense has been a “staple” at Ohio State. The offense wasn’t great in the non-conference season, but the Buckeyes still won because of defense, the junior forward said.

“As long as I’ve been here, we’ve been one of the top defensive teams in the country,” Thompson added. “We’ve been a team that has gotten offense out of our defense, and a team that can really control the game from the defensive end.”

Midway through the second half, Ohio State held Illinois scoreless for more than four minutes and created four turnovers. The 9-0 run gave the Buckeyes a six-point lead, the largest of the game for either team.  But the Illini tied the game, only to be outscored 16-9 over the final six minutes. That time period was Ohio State’s nemesis in losses to Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.

LaQuinton Ross scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the second half and Lenzelle Smith Jr. made four three-points en route to 16 points. Aaron Craft, mired in one of the worst stretches of his career, finished with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and just two turnovers. He was averaging nearly five per game during the losing streak.

The Buckeyes shot 54.2 percent from the field in the second half – 41.7 percent for the game – and 8 of 19 from 3. They also converted 14 of 19 free throws, a massive improvement from recent woes. 

“Everyone was connected tonight and there was a lot of togetherness,” Ross said. “You saw guys jumping up and down, our bench jumping up and down and we were able to get our crowd into it. It felt good to be home too and having the crowd’s support.”

The uncharacteristic sloppy play Ohio State displayed the past four games largely disappeared, though the Buckeyes did turn the ball over on the game’s first possession. They finished the night with 12 turnovers.

Illinois only scored 22 points in the paint after Ohio State surrendered 120 in its past three games – all losses. Amir Williams’ lackluster play also was under the microscope. He didn’t play in the second half at Nebraska, and responded with his play during the first half on Thursday.

Williams had five points, two rebounds and two blocks in the opening minutes. He ended up with seven points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

“We need Amir to play well,” Matta said Wednesday. “We need him to play consistently at both ends. We’ve got to get him back to tracking the ball, to blocking shots and challenging shots. When he has played well, we’ve played well. I know that.”

Both teams’ first-half shooting percentages rivaled the sub-freezing temperatures outside. Illinois was making 30 percent of its attempts with the Buckeyes beginning the game on a 3 for 14 tear. The Illini held a 25-24 advantage at the half after Ohio State shot 29 percent (7-24).

The Buckeyes, 16-4 overall and 3-4 in the conference, go on a weeklong hiatus before hosting Penn State Wednesday.

“The time off will be a great time to recollect, reflect and get healthy,” Matta said.


Comments Show All Comments

Baroclinicity's picture

Lenzelle Smith, we need you with double digits every night.  Someone has to take the pressure off Ross.
Go Bucks!!

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

skid21's picture

Not confident Smith will perform as well against the better competition. That seems to be his pattern.

Baroclinicity's picture

Nor am I, but I'm picking him because he's a senior.  Hoping for the best.  (Not my DV, of course... have an upvote to counter).

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

skid21's picture

Couldn't care less about DVs but thanks. I'd love to see Smith become a leader and more importantly a scorer but he seems to go missing against the elite competition. I don't care who steps up we just need someone to do it and not just against the weak competition.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I see what you're saying, but Smith is a total player compared to Ross.  Ross is an offensive weapon but he's also still a liability - with his turnovers and defense.  

Read my entire screen name....

Zimmy07's picture

I wonder if it's as simple as we go as Smith goes?

Olemissbuckeye's picture

That's a relief. Time to start a winning streak!

Thomas's picture

Good job Buckeyes! Wasn't pretty, but a win is a win. 

Go1Bucks's picture

If it weren't for that losing streak, we have Matta's 20 wins already.  Damn, now to win out!
GO Bucks!

Go Bucks!

BuckeyeTennis91's picture

Definitely played better than the last 4 games. Wasn't as good as it couldve been but they made shots when they needed to, and rebounded the basketball (both key problems in the 4 game skid). Much needed win, hopefully gets em back on track.


Seattle Linga's picture

Nice job Bucks way to break the L Streak. 

BuckToAsT's picture

Second Half.  Please play like that from now on.

ITWASME's picture

Thank the lord! I was beginning to think this would never happen

ibuck's picture

Good win for the Buckeyes, led by Ross' shooting and leadership of seniors  Aaron Craft and LSJ. Shutting down the Illini's leading scorer was helpful, but Rayvonte Rice is fighting thru a groin pull, so just taking the court is warrior stuff.
Glad to see Amir rebounding again, as OSU held their own on the glass. Hope the Bucks can build off this.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

BuckToAsT's picture

And CBJ is taking it to Philly.
What a relief--I was beginning to think the Jacket's winning streak was negatively correlated to the Buckeye's losing streak!

topgun67's picture

lets be real, this team is far far from being a top 4 seed team in the tourney.  maybe a 6 or 7 seed unless we get the hustle back on D, and get Q and few others contribute more on offense.  is it possible? heck yes, but I don't know if it will happen.  Smith, Craft, Scott are just poor shooters most of the time... and our bench is too raw. 
for rest of year, i think i will just enjoy with lower expectation (make the tourney and maybe win a couple)... versus repeating elite 8 or final 4...
next year we should get more help.  I hope Q returns for senior year as I don't think for right now, he will be a top 2 round pick.. no way.

bdegroff's picture

hey!! We got one, its a good day!!

thunderhawks51's picture

Still waiting to see some toughness and edge to these guys as a whole. We have it in our coach and senior PG. Hopefully the others buy in. A win is a win is a win and I'll take it any day. 

jbirmmd's picture

If our bench doesn't start performing better we will probably have a new losing streak soon.

Buckeye Scottie's picture

To heck with the bench playing better.  We still need our STARTERS to be playing better.  LSJ finally hit a few shots which definitely helps, and Craft HAS to get his points off steals and fast breaks.
But there are still flaws.  Amir still shows me next to nothing.  He should be so much more than what he gives.  A lot of it looks like effort too.  That first half was atrocious.  You play a decent team, that first half would bury you, not be down 1 point. 
Was nice to see the defense return in the second half too.  All of our woes are not gone, but it sure does feel good getting a W again.

lakejamesbuck's picture

Say goodbye to that ugly #15...lasted way too long and now we roll!!!  Go Bucks!!!

sbentz4's picture

Have to still improve the assist to turnover ratio, but hopefully gets us back on track.

Knarcisi's picture

1st time over 40% from 3 I think in a long, long time. 

Seattle Linga's picture

Hopefully we will be playing our best ball at the end of March.

Josh P's picture

That wasn't an NIT team playing tonight.  I think we'll be alright.  

Buckeye Scottie's picture

First half was definitely an NIT squad.  2nd half notsomuch.  Therein lies the rub...inconsistancy.

Jsandusky2011's picture

Idk we looked pretty rough. Hopefully Lenzelle can keep it going tho. We NEED him to keep scoring. At least its still January so we have time to get better still. 

irishfury's picture

I would take any type of win after the last 4 games.

O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

We're dependent on Amir showing up. Glad he did tonite, good win.

jbirmmd's picture

Amir is critical, as is regaining some shooting touch from Smith and Thompson.  I don't think they need to be lighting it up, but if we could rely on them for 10-12 per night, and continue to play D the way we do, I think we could get it turned around.  The problem is there is little in the flow of this season so far to inspire confidence that they can consistently do that. 

GrayDay's picture

The best sign was that toward the end Craft stopped forcing things and looked comfortable again.  His confidence when playing within himself is infectious.  He can lead them out of the funk.  But to beat good teams, especially those with strong bigs, absolutely need Ross and Williams to play hard inside.