Ohio State Staves Off Late Comeback After Going Up Big, Beats Illinois, 86-83

By Griffin Strom on February 24, 2022 at 11:36 pm

Ohio State never held a lead in the first half against Illinois, but it was Brad Underwood and company that trailed by the time home fans hit the exits in Champaign.

The Buckeyes weathered an early storm and held on late against the No. 15 Fighting Illini to edge out a 86-83 victory over Illinois at State Farm Center, as the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes picked up their best win in well over two months with the help of a strong showing for most of the final 20 minutes.

Team 1 2 FINAL
#22 OHIO STATE 36 50 86
#15 ILLINOIS 37 46 83

In what was a one-point game with 9.5 seconds to go, Kyle Young and Cedric Russell split a pair of free throws and Ohio State got stops on its last two defensive possessions to help secure the road win. Illinois had a last-second heave to try and tie things up, but it didn’t hit the rim as the buzzer sounded.

From the end of the first half to the start of the second, Ohio State went on a 22-2 run that changed the trajectory of the game as the Buckeyes went up by double digits after trailing at halftime. Ohio State pushed that lead to 16 points at the 12:18 mark, and the Buckeyes went back up by that same margin after Underwood was ejected for his second technical foul with six minutes to go.

But Illinois cut it to a two-point game with 1:49 to play with a 10-0 run in just a 98-second span, and had a chance to tie the game or take the lead with just four seconds to play before a turnover by Trent Frazier.

Malaki Branham led the way for Ohio State by scoring 31 points in his third straight 20-point game, and both E.J. Liddell (21) and Kyle Young (18) had big nights for the Buckeyes as well.

First Half

Illinois capitalized on a slow start by the Buckeyes, who knocked down just three of their first 12 shots, as the Illini got out to a 21-8 lead behind a 3-point barrage by Alfonso Plummer. The Utah transfer guard scored nine of the first 12 points for Illinois and finished the opening period with 18 points to lead all scorers.

But the Buckeyes did not lay down after going down 13 points early in the opening nine-and-a-half minutes. Ohio State countered with a 12-2 run down to the 6:46 mark, and Branham scored five of those by himself to put the Buckeyes down just one point, 23-22.

Illinois went back up seven points with three minutes to play as Plummer continued his tear, but the Buckeyes responded by closing out the half on an 8-2 run to cut the Illini edge back to one point at intermission. 

Ohio State and Illinois shot nearly identical percentages from the floor in the first half, 44.4 to 44.1, but the Illini’s 16 points in the paint were twice as many as the Buckeye total. The Buckeye bench outscored the Illinois reserves by 14, though, as Kyle Young gave Ohio State a major boost with 13 first-half points.

Still, Ohio State never led in the opening half while Illinois had the upper hand for more than 19 minutes.

86 POINTS 83
27-52 (51.9%) FGM-FGA (PCT.) 30-63 (47.6%)
6-12 (50%) 3PM-3PA (PCT.) 12-25 (48%)
26-32 (81.3%) FTM-FTA (PCT.) 11-17 (64.7%)

Second Half

The first shot of the second half, a turnaround jumper from Liddell, gave Ohio State its first lead of the game, and Branham followed it up with a dunk on the very next possession. Those two shots kickstarted a 16-2 run for the Buckeyes through the first five minutes and change that put Ohio State up 13 points at the 14:35 mark.

A technical foul on Underwood nearly seven minutes into the half allowed Liddell to extend the Buckeye lead at the foul line, and a Cedric Russell jumper put Ohio State up 58-42 with 12:18 to go.

Illinois cut that advantage back down to eight points with nine minutes to play, but Russell hit a 3-pointer from the wing that silenced the home crowd and put Ohio State back ahead by 11. Another Branham bucket pushed Ohio State back up 14, and an offensive foul at the other end incurred the wrath of Underwood, who was ejected from the game with his second technical foul.

But the Illini found themselves right back in it in the final minutes, going on a tear to cut the Buckeye lead to just two points with 1:49 to play. Branham and Liddell gave Ohio State a two-possession lead with less than a minute to play, but Illinois could not complete the comeback attempt in the end.

Plummer finished with 26 to lead the Illini, and Kofi Cockburn had 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting before fouling out in the second half.

What’s Next

Ohio State will go back on the road Sunday for a 4 p.m. matchup with Maryland.

Game Notes

  • Liddell was listed as questionable before the game due to the flu, but still started for the Buckeyes alongside Jamari Wheeler, Eugene Brown, Branham and Zed Key. Chris Holtmann said after the game that Liddell had to go to the hospital after the Indiana game on Monday.
  • Ohio State lost to Illinois, 91-88, in overtime in last year’s Big Ten Tournament championship game on March 14, 2021, the most recent matchup between the two teams before Thursday night. The Buckeyes and Illini split two regular season meetings in the 2020-21 campaign prior to their postseason matchup.
  • Cockburn is the lone player in the Big Ten averaging a double-double this season, but he had only three rebounds against the Buckeyes.
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