Ohio State had to overcome adversity to earn its 11th win of the Big Ten season on Sunday.
The Buckeyes went down 15 points in the first 10 minutes of Sunday's game against Illinois, were without one of their starting guards for the entire game and trailed with as few as six minutes remaining in the game, but the Buckeyes battled back to earn an 75-67 victory, improving their overall record for the season to 20-5.
Keita Bates-Diop carried the Buckeyes on his back, scoring a career-high 35 points and grabbing 13 rebounds for his 10th double double of the season.
Andre Wesson made his first career start on Sunday in place of Kam Williams, who was announced as being suspended indefinitely on Sunday morning for a violation of team rules, and the Buckeyes missed Williams' scoring ability, as his replacement in the lineup and the Buckeyes' bench combined to score just 10 points. But Bates-Diop, Jae'Sean Tate, Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson picked up the slack enough for Ohio State to claw its way to an eight-point victory in front of a crowd of 18,473, Ohio State's largest crowd of the season to date at Value City Arena.
"Buckeye Nation was unbelievable," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said of the season-high attendance after the game."
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After putting together a strong start in its previous game against Indiana, Ohio State reverted back to its slow-starting ways on Sundays, as Illinois went on a 17-4 run to build a 30-15 lead midway through the first half. The Buckeyes had as many turnovers as they did field goals (six each) in the first 10 minutes of the game, in which the Illini hit well over 60 percent of their shot attempts.
Following that, however, Illinois did not score a single point for the rest of the first half, as Ohio State scored 19 unanswered points to take a 34-30 lead into the break.
The Buckeyes finished the first half with 10 turnovers and made only two of their 11 attempts from three-point range, but Bates-Diop made up for it, scoring exactly half (17) of the Buckeyes' first-half points.
Ohio State maintained control of the game for the first 12 minutes of the second half, never trailing during that span, but fell into a four-point hole after a 9-0 run by Illinois, aided in part by a technical foul call against Tate.
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|3-16 (18.8%)||3PM-3PA (PCT.)||9-28 (32.1%)|
|26-33 (78.8%)||FTM-FTA (PCT.)||12-17 (70.6%)|
The Buckeyes continued to trail until just over five minutes to play, when they went on a 10-0 run – sparked by a Bates-Diop three – to take a 70-63 lead with less two minutes to play. But Illinois fought back with a four-point run of its own, cutting the lead to three with less than one minute to play before Kaleb Wesson helped the Buckeyes re-establish control with a rebound and putback off a Tate miss. From there, Bates-Diop finished the scoring with a trio of free throws.
Tate finished the game with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Kaleb Wesson had 10 points and 10 rebounds for a double double of his own. Jackson finished with nine points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Buckeyes finished the game with only three made three-pointers on 16 attempts, 46 percent shooting from the field overall and 15 turnovers. But Ohio State did outrebound Illinois, 45 to 22, while outscoring the Illini 38 to 16 in the paint.
After playing four straight games at home, Ohio State is set for what should be its toughest road test of the year on Wednesday, when they play No. 3-ranked Purdue – which is 23-2 on the season and 12-0 in Big Ten play – at 8:30 p.m. in West Lafayette, Indiana, in a game that will be televised on BTN.