Ohio State suffered its first conference loss in spectacular fashion, crashing and burning in a 74-55 loss at Illinois. The Buckeyes (11-3, 1-1) showed a remarkable lack of intensity for the game’s first 32 minutes, turned the ball over repeatedly, forced shots, and generally missed almost everything they launched. If this year’s team thought that winning the B1G was a birthright, the Illini (14-2, 1-1) forcibly beat that notion out of them. Illinois played good team defense, made its shots and took advantage of 11 first-half OSU turnovers in building a 37-25 halftime lead that soared as high as 16. Nothing much changed in the second half except the Illinois treys started to fall and things got worse.
Aaron Craft’s hustle and Deshaun Thomas’s shooting cut the second-half deficit that had ballooned to 25 down to 14 but a three-pointer by D.J. Richardson settled the Illini down. Illinois scored six of the next eight points and restored control. Brandon Paul didn’t equal last year’s unconscious 43 points, but his 19 led four Illini in doubles. That includes center Nnanna Egwu, who crushed his season averages of six points and four rips, putting up a career high 16 points with eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, Ohio State got five points and eight boards from Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel. The duo also combined for five fouls and three turnovers. They were generally so ineffective that Thad Matta benched both and went with a smaller lineup of Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson. Trey McDonald, you say? Matta put him in for two minutes at garbage time and he recorded a trillion.
In the preview, I suggested that Ohio State would be in trouble if it had trouble stopping both Richardson and Tracy Abrams. Richardson scored nine but hit some dagger threes to kill any OSU momentum. He added four rebounds, a block and three steals. Abrams scored 13 with six rebounds, five assists and three steals. He did turn the ball over six times, but his night was more accurately epitomized by an NBA range bomb with Craft’s hand in his face as the shot clock wound down. It was that kind of night.
I also suggested that Ohio State was in trouble if they had another brickfest. The Buckeyes shot 20/60 (33%) and a putrid 4/19 outside the arc (21%). They also shot 68.8% (11/16) at the line. I felt Thomas needed to score around his average without needing a lot of shots to do it. It took him 21 shots to notch a game-high 24 points (9/21 shooting, 1/5 from downtown).
We told you rebounding would be a factor. The Illini entered 11th in the conference in rebounding margin. They won on the glass 39-28 (9-8 on offense). So, basically, Ohio State did none of the things we thought they needed to do to win, and that’s how you lose by 19 points.
Positives? Craft scored 11, but it took him 10 shots to get there. Part of that was a flurry of forced shots as time started to become a factor. Craft also nabbed four steals and four rebounds without a turnover in a pretty good all-around game. The Buckeyes forced 12 second-half turnovers, but squandered most of those opportunities to get back in the game. Smith scored eight points with seven rebounds but all of those points came in the first half and he turned it over four times.
Looking ahead to a difficult schedule, Matta must figure out what to do with Thompson. Slam scored one point with two rebounds, two assists and a block, but he simply doesn’t appear to be any threat offensively. When on the floor with Craft it generally puts Ohio State in a 3-on-5 situation on the offensive end. Ross is not an answer at this point. He had more turnovers (3) than points and rebounds combined—scoring two points. He looks hesitant against formidable competition and passes up open shots to try to dribble around defenders. This is not his forte.
Next up is a trip to Purdue on Tuesday. All the Boilermakers did in their last home game was beat Illinois.