For all its early season struggles, Thad Matta's Ohio State team is staying hot as conference play picks up.
The Buckeyes earned their sixth consecutive win Sunday, staving off Illinois, 75-73, at the Schottenstein Center to start Big Ten play with back-to-back victories. It is Ohio State's eighth victory in its last nine games.
After leaving the first half scoreless with two fouls in 1:40, Ohio State freshman guard JaQuan Lyle tallied 14 points in the game's final 20 minutes. He, along with junior leading scoring Marc Loving, led a late Buckeye surge to finally push their team out front for good.
Loving finished with a game-high 27 points and went 14-of-19 from the free-throw line. He made 1-of-2 free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining and watched a Malcolm Hill heave at the buzzer fall short to secure the victory.
Michael Finke's 3-pointer with 4:55 left put Illinois ahead by two points, but they never led again.
Ohio State had trouble dissecting Illinois' 2-3 zone in the second half, which Fighting Illini coach John Groce elected to deploy with his team trailing early in the final 20 minutes. However, a pair of 3-pointers by Loving and Kam Williams kept Ohio State afloat as Illinois nailed eight tries from beyond the arc in the second half.
Both teams struggled to score from the field in the opening 20 minutes, combining to shoot just 33 percent.
|21-50 (42)||FGM-FGA (PCT.)||26-65 (40)|
|5-15 (33)||3PM-3PA (PCT.)||12-32 (38)|
|28-39 (72)||FTM-FTA (PCT.)||9-11 (82)|
A game of scoring runs in the early going ended with Ohio State taking a 30-26 lead at intermission. The Buckeyes attacked the rim and the offensive glass with gusto to earn a slew of chances at the foul line. They made 13-of-15 free throws in the opening frame.
Four Illini players finished with 14 points in the game. Kendrick Nunn and Hill each corralled seven rebounds. The Illini only attempted 11 free throws in the game, making nine. Ohio State finished 28-39 from the stripe.
Along with Lyle and Loving, Keita Bates-Diop (11 points) and Williams (10 off bench) finished in double figures for the Buckeyes. Bates-Diop led Ohio State with nine rebounds.
Illinois falls to 8-7 on the season and 0-2 in conference play.
Ohio State (10-5, 2-0 Big Ten) visits Northwestern Wednesday at 9 p.m.