Ohio State 48, Illinois 39
The Sports Xchange
By Jack McCarthy, The Sports Xchange
Ohio State 48, Illinois 39
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Guard Aaron Craft scored 14 points and No. 22 Ohio State got back on the winning track with a 48-39 Big Ten victory over Illinois on Saturday night at the State Farm Center.
The Buckeyes (20-6, 7-6 Big Ten) bounced back from their midweek loss to No. 15 Michigan as forward Ross LaQuinton had nine points and forward Marc Loving added eight -- all in the second half.
The Illini (14-12, 3-10) dropped their second straight and 10th in their last 11 games despite 13 points from guard Tracy Abrams, 11 from guard Rayvonte Rice and a career-high 14 rebounds from center Nnanna Egwu.
Illinois missed six of its first seven shots from the field in the second half and Craft broke a 25-25 tie with a 3-pointer for a 28-25 lead at the 15:14 mark, the Buckeyes' first lead since early in the game.
Ohio State later opened a 42-29 lead as Loving collected back-to-back field goals, two free throws and a baseline jumper -- his first points of the game -- during a 12-0 run.
Abrams broke a 8:20 Illinois drought with a 3-pointer with 4:25 to play that cut the Ohio State lead to 42-32.
Illinois crept even closer thanks to Rice's 3-pointer and a layup in a 44-second span, leaving the Illini trailing 44-37 with 1:11 to play.
Rice had another layup with 58 seconds left that cut the deficit to five, but Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit two free throws to restore a seven-point lead at 46-39 with 52 seconds showing.
Both teams struggled from the field. Illinois was just 15 of 53 (28.3 percent) and Ohio State was 18 of 47 (38.3 percent).
Illinois led all but 15 seconds of the first half as Abrams hit two 3-pointers for six points and guard Kendrick Nunn added five for an early 17-14 lead.
But both teams struggled from the field with subpar shooting percentages that slipped to 32.1 percent from the field (9 of 28) for Ohio State and 29 percent (9 of 31) for Illinois by halftime.
The Illini never gave up the lead and opened a 23-20 halftime edge behind Abrams' six points and Egwu's 11 rebounds. Craft paced the Buckeyes with seven first-half points.
NOTES: Saturday's game was the third in six days for the Illini, who beat Penn State 60-55 last Sunday before falling 67-58 on Wednesday at Nebraska. Illinois snapped a eight-game losing streak with the win in State College. ... Illinois G Rayvonte Rice is the only Big Ten player currently leading his team in scoring (16.8 points), rebounding (6.0) and steals (1.3). ... The Illini were 1-5 against ranked teams this season entering the game. They dropped a 62-55 decision to the Buckeyes in Columbus on Jan. 23. ... Ohio State G Aaron Craft came in as reigning Big Ten player of the week, winning his third weekly award after averaging 12 points, 10 assists and nine steals in two wins last week. ... Entering Saturday, the Buckeyes trailed the Illini 60-23 all time in Champaign, led 43-40 in Columbus and had won three of the last four meetings regardless of location. ... Both teams resume Big Ten play on Wednesday. Ohio State plays host to Northwestern and Illinois travels to Minnesota.