Ohio State basketball and coach Thad Matta rolled into conference play on the road against Illinois on Sunday, and they found themselves in a pickle late in the first half.
Thanks to a 19-2 run by the Illini in the first half, the Buckeyes trailed at halftime, 40-29. That lead turned out to be just enough for Illinois, as Ohio State’s comeback fell short and the Buckeyes dropped their Big Ten opener, 75-70, at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.
Ohio State (10-4, 0-1 Big Ten) worked its way back to take the lead multiple times, including 64-63 with 3 minutes, 54 seconds to play. However, two late 3s and clutch free throws by senior Illinois guard Tracy Abrams sank the Buckeyes, ending Illinois’ (11-4, 1-1) six-game losing streak to Ohio State.
WHY: Leading 62-60 with 4:17 left in the game, the Buckeyes fell victim to Illinois’ 3-point shooting behind Michael Finke and Jalen Coleman-Lands, who both hit 3s to put the Illini ahead 66-64 with 3:30 left. From there, Illinois made 7 of 10 free throws to close out the game. All of that came after Ohio State sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle went on a scoring rampage to lift the Buckeyes into the lead.
WHAT IT MEANS: Losing to Illinois, a team Ohio State had owned the previous six times they played, could mean the Buckeyes are losing ground in the Big Ten. While the Illini are showing they’ve got a solid roster that can match with most, if not all, of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will need to find a way to keep pace with not only Illinois but the rest of the budding Big Ten programs.
WHO STARRED: Early in the second half, Lyle got hot for Ohio State while Illinois struggled. Lyle led all Ohio State scorers with 26 points, and almost single-handedly led the Buckeyes’ comeback by scoring 18 of his 26 points in the second half. His offensive presence could prove to be crucial once Ohio State’s schedule hits the heart of conference play.
WHO STUMBLED: The Buckeyes were outrebounded by the Illini, 42-35, while the defense allowed Illinois to shoot 43.3 percent. Ohio State dropping 70 points in a conference game is a very good thing. Ohio State dropping 70 in a losing effort should raise some alarms, considering two of the next three games the Buckeyes will play are on the road.
WHO IS NEXT: Ohio State heads home to continue its conference schedule against Purdue on Thursday. That game will tip off at 7 p.m.