Buckeyes Move to 2-0 in Conference Play
Ohio State started the Big Ten season the same way they did a year ago, winning their second straight December conference game, defeating Illinois in the United Center in Chicago, 77-67 to move to 8-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play. In a choppy game that saw 48 fouls called, the Buckeyes overcame a sloppy start to come from 5 down late in the first half to get a difficult road conference win. Keyshawn Woods led the Buckeyes with 18 points while Kaleb Wesson scored 13 to go along with 7 rebounds. Musa Jallow added 11 points and 9 rebounds off the bench for the victorious Buckeyes. Kipper Nichols and Trent Frazier led Illinois with 18 apiece.
Illinois was the aggressor early with high pressure, on the ball defense and the more active team on the glass, yet the Buckeyes led by a bucket at the under 16 timeout. The Buckeyes went on a mini run out of the break to take a 12-6 advantage, fueled by a corner 3 from Musa Jallow. The Illini would come right back with an 8-0 run forcing 2 Buckeye turnovers in the process, to take a 15-13 lead with just under 13 minutes to go in the half. The Buckeyes clung to a 1-point lead at the under 12 media timeout and Coach Chris Holtmann had a few choice words for the squad, unhappy with their effort. They responded out of the timeout with a renewed sense of energy and intensity. The Buckeyes quickly went on a 7-0 run that allowed them to take control, forcing Illinois to call timeout at the 10:44 mark and Ohio State leading by 8. The Buckeyes maintained that lead for the next 4 minutes before Ohio State got very careless with the basketball, turning it over on 4 possessions, leading to an Illinois 8-0 run, all on free throws, to draw even with just over 3 minutes remaining in the half. The frustration for Ohio State continued as the Buckeyes attempted to score in transition when Jaedon LeDee went up for a dunk. His shot was blocked causing Chris Holtmann to get hot and subsequently receive a technical foul, feeling LeDee was fouled. Illinois would split the free throws, giving them a 1-point lead. The Buckeye drought allowed Illinois to stretch the lead to 5. The Buckeyes would ultimately go nearly 6:57 without a field goal, turning it over 8 times during that stretch, and ending with a Kyle Young one hander in the paint while being fouled to cut the lead to 5. Fortunately, the Buckeyes would go into the break trailing by just 4 in what was unquestionably their worst half of basketball to date. Duane Washington led Ohio State with 7 points off the bench and Keyshawn Woods added 6.
Ohio State elected to go small to start the second half, substituting Keyshawn Woods for Kyle Young and it paid dividends early, as the Buckeyes were able to trim the lead to 1 in the first four plus minutes. It was a chippy start to the second half as 8 fouls were called in the first 4 minutes causing the game to come to a grinding halt. Ohio State would start to find a little rhythm on both ends and when Duane Washington made a scoop shot in the lane, the Buckeyes held their first lead since a little over 3:30 to go in the first half. Ohio State would extend the lead to 6 when Luther Muhammad buried a crossover three from the right point as the shot clock expired and 10:45 remaining in the half. The Buckeyes began to show better defensive connectivity making it increasingly difficult for Illinois to do anything offensively and began to take control of the ballgame, taking an 8-point lead, part of a 9-0 run, forcing the Illini to call timeout with 9:30 remaining. A pair of free throws by Kaleb Wesson and 1 from Luther Muhammad gave the Buckeyes their largest lead of 13 coming out of the under 8 timeout. However, Illinois would answer with a three from the left wing to cut it back to 10. On the next possession, excellent ball movement and a penetration and kick from Andre Wesson led to a Keyshawn Woods triple that gave the Buckeyes the 13-point advantage right back. The Illini did not go away, cutting the lead to 9 out of the under 4 timeout, and after back to back turnovers by Ohio State, Illinois cut the lead to just 6 with under 3 minutes to play with a three from the left point. The Buckeyes would answer as Woods got into the lane and hit a flashing Kyle Young along the baseline for a layup that increased the lead to 8 and put the final nail in the Illinois coffin.
Sometimes you have to win ugly and that’s what Ohio State did on this night. Overcoming 19 turnovers, and as they say, defense travels, and when they struggled to possess the basketball, their defense did not suffer, forcing Illinois to 32.8% shooting from the field, shooting 57% in the second half themselves. This game had no rhythm from the get go as the whistles ran wild but it would not deter the Buckeyes. Keyshawn Woods provided a veteran, steadying influence and with C.J. Jackson struggling handling the basketball, Woods provided a big lift off the bench. The Buckeyes will now take some time off from games, not playing for 10 days which will be a much needed break for Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes who have played a lot of games in a short period of time.
The Buckeyes play a week from Saturday in the Schott, hosting the Bucknell Bison. Tip time scheduled for high Noon to be televised on BTN.
– Jason Harris