Basketball Preview: Illinois’ Scoring Proficiency, Rebounding Dominance Will Make It Difficult for Ohio State to Stop Its Skid

By Andy Anders on January 30, 2024 at 7:00 am
Coleman Hawkins
Matt Marton – USA TODAY Sports

Preventing a second three-game losing streak within a seven-game span isn’t going to be an easy task for Ohio State on Tuesday.

Fighting Illini
15 - 5
Value City Arena
Columbus, OH

The Buckeyes’ opponent coming off of back-to-back losses is No. 14 Illinois, a 15-5 team tied for third in the Big Ten. Ohio State is tied for third-to-last in the Big Ten.

It’s a matchup that comes three days after the Buckeyes suffered their most lopsided defeat of the season, a 25-point blowout loss to Northwestern on the road that was even more lopsided than the final scoring margin.

Regardless of any negativity surrounding his team or the daunting nature of playing a top-15 team, Chris Holtmann remains committed to keeping his squad’s focus internal and centered on improvement.

"Our only focus is today," Holtmann said. "Even though it is a quick turnaround against a really good Illinois team, I think, in some ways, that can be a good thing, and we're excited to see how our guys respond. So much of athletics is about how you respond and we have an opportunity to respond."

Need to Know

Score, score, score some more

Illinois is 26th nationally in points per game (82.1) and 25th in points per 100 possessions (115.4). Its shooting numbers are middle of the pack, going 46.1% from the field and 34.1% from three, but it’s the Fighting Illini’s ability to generate extra chances that helps boost their scoring numbers. Speaking of which:

Beasts on the boards

On a per-game basis, no team in the Big Ten outrebounds their opponents better than Illinois. The Fighting Illini have an average rebounding margin of 9.5 per game, the 12th-best in Division I college basketball. They pull in 43.2 total rebounds per contest, which is fourth-best in the country.

It’s a collective effort to crash the glass as well. Each of Illinois’ starters averages at least 4.3 rebounds per contest, with two averaging at least 6.6. It helps that each player in said starting lineup stands at least 6-foot-6.

Three Important Buckeyes

Felix Okpara

Okpara, leading the Buckeyes with 7.1 rebounds per game, will be Ohio State’s main answer to contain Illinois on the glass. Some strong interior defense from the center would go a long way to slow the Fighting Illini’s attack.

Evan Mahaffey

Arguably the most versatile defender on the Buckeyes’ roster, Mahaffey will be called upon to guard multiple areas of the floor on Tuesday. His father, Jamie Mahaffey, was recently removed from his ventilator and is talking to family members following a heart transplant, so perhaps Evan will have some extra off-court inspiration as well.

Roddy Gayle Jr.

Gayle has shown signs that he could return to his old offensive form in two of Ohio State’s past three games. He scored 16 points in the Buckeyes’ most recent win over Penn State and posted 15 against Northwestern, though he did turn the ball over three times in the latter contest.

Gayle still needs to heat up from three-point range as he is now one for his last 21 from distance after making his first triple in six games against the Wildcats.

Three Notable Illini

Terrence Shannon Jr.

Projected Starting Lineup
No. Player Position Height Weight 2023-24 Stats
0 Terrence Shannon Jr. G 6-6 210 19.9 PPG, 2.5 APG
20 Ty Rodgers G 6-6 200 6.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG
3 Marcus Domask F 6-6 215 15.2 PPG, 3.5 APG
13 Quincy Guerrier F 6-8 220 11.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG
33 Coleman Hawkins F 6-10 200 11.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG

Shannon is Illinois’ best basketball player bar none, boasting a team-high 19.9 points per game and tacking on 2.5 assists. Any on-court success of his is overshadowed by an ongoing rape trial off the court, however. The preliminary hearing for his case, which is set to unfold in Kansas, was delayed from February until May.

Illinois suspended Shannon indefinitely for his rape charge on Dec. 28 but a federal judge overturned the punishment. He was fully reinstated to the basketball team and resumed playing on Jan. 21.

Marcus Domask

Domask follows Shannon in the scoring department, posting 15.2 points per game. He’s also the leading dime-gatherer for Illinois, dishing out 3.5 assists per contest. He’s been a hindrance to the squad from the three-point line, taking 4.1 attempts from three per game but shooting a measly 23.5% from range.

Coleman Hawkins

A do-everything forward is always an asset, and that’s exactly the role Hawkins plays for Illinois. While he’s third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game, he’s also second in rebounding (6.6 per game) and first in both blocks (1.3) and steals (1.9). Defensively, he’s perhaps the top reason why Illinois is a strong 52nd nationally allowing 96.5 points per 100 possessions.

How It Plays Out

Line: Illinois -3, O/U 150.5

It’s hard to see Ohio State’s losing skid stopping in this one. The Buckeyes have struggled defensively of late, giving up 83 points to both Nebraska and Northwestern and allowing those teams to shoot a combined 53.3% from three-point range. That doesn’t bode well against an offense as prolific as the Fighting Illini’s.

Prediction: Illinois 84, Ohio State 71

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