Columbus, OH—-The Ohio State Buckeyes came into today’s meeting with the Illinois Fighting Illini on a nine game losing streak. After a heroic effort against the Penn State Nittany Lions by the resilient young Buckeyes team, it just wasn’t enough end the nightmarish skid. Head coach Chris Holtmann needed to dial up the right formula and chemistry and a little luck to get a victory and regain confidence in the Buckeyes roster.
The dynamic freshman combo of Bruce Thornton and Brice Sensabugh combined for 39 points in a lose to Penn State, but were looking to build on that momentum and finish the season on a positive note. Illinois Fighting Illini are in must win mode at 19-9, 10-7 in Big Ten play but seem to be right on the bubble for the NCAA tournament at large bid. The Illini can’t afford a loss to subpar Ohio State team this late in the season.
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood understands the significance of winning games their “supposed to win” in conference play. The Illini will lean heavily on senior sensation and potential Big Ten 1st team honors player, Terrence Shannon Jr. to come up huge on the road against the Buckeyes. Shannon put up 17.3 points per game (7TH in the Big10), 4.8 rebounds, and 34.1% from 3-point land—— he must set the tone early in this game.
The Illini supporting cast players such as senior Matthew Mayer, (12.6 pts, 5.4 rebs) sophomore Dain Dainja (10.1 pts, 5.8 rebs), and freshman Jayden Epps (10.0 pts 42.2 fg%) will have to play a bigger role on the road in this contest for Illinois to be successful. The day wasn’t their day for the Illini, they brought a 15-point Ohio State lead down to one, but the Buckeyes slammed the door to hand Illinois a 72-60 loss on Sunday.
“Very disappointing from our standpoint,” coach Underwood said.
Ohio State started four freshmen to display the future of the Buckeyes program youth movement. Ohio State freshman Bruce Thornton, the past five games has played like a seasoned vet, controlling the temp, limited turnovers, and displaying his scoring ability. Roddy Gayle Jr. and Eugene Brown III being back in the line up for the buckeyes, has provided a huge boost with their athleticism,energy, and tight ball defense.
Thornton scored 13 first-half points, and the Buckeyes shot 60% from the hardwood to take a 41-29 lead into the locker room.
Ohio State’s Brice Sensabugh came out the gates ferociously draining his shot, being aggressive of screens, driving down hill getting to the cup. The Illini started out slow due to the defensive activity on the perimeter by the Buckeyes getting to spots and communicate switches on defense.
Well timed double teams and limiting Illinois to one shot, had the Buckeyes up 17-9 at the 11-minute mark of the 1st half. At the 3:53 mark of the first half Illinois leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. was scoreless 0-4 from the field and 0-3 from behind the arc. This was the major reason the Illini trailed by 13 (33 to 20) during the span. Coleman Hawkins of the Illini with a spectacular one hand jam over two Buckeye defenders kept Illinois close, his 10 points and two rebounds led them in scoring.
Illinois looked like they were in sleep mode as their lethargic performance continued into the second half down 45-31 with 17:08 remaining in the game. PTP’er (Prime time player in my Dickie V voice) Terrence Shannon Jr. had only scored two points early in the half, and was defended well by Ohio State’s Roddy Gayle Jr.
The next five minutes the Buckeyes struggled to score and allowed the Illini back in the game. At the 11:56 mark of the game it was 49-43. Coleman Hawkins (Season Average 9.8 pts 6.4 rebs) had 14 points at the 6:28 mark was the leading at that point. Ohio State’s Brice Sensaburgh posterized Illinois Matthew Mayer dunking over him with authority to electrify the Buckeye’s crowd. Thornton spin move layup as well as being fouled with a free throw to pushed Ohio lead to ten.
A Mayer layup brought Illinois within two with 10:16 left and an Epps three cut the Buckeyes’ lead to one with 6:53 left.
State’s grew its lead to 11 points 64-53 with 3:57 remaining on the clock. The Buckeyes were playing as if they’re on the bubble to get into the NCAA tournament with players diving for loose balls and making timely baskets under three minutes to play in the game.
Buckeyes senior Justice Sueing had a double-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds, hitting two huge free throws to extend the lead to 68-58 with 1:33 in the game. A gutsy performance by Thee Ohio State Buckeyes was just to much for the Illinois Fighting Illini and may have burst their bubble for NCAA field of 68 tournament play with the loss.
Four Illinois scorers finished in double figures, with Coleman Hawkins leading the way with 14 points. Hawkins also grabbed a team-high seven boards and two steals.
Ohio State finished the game out-rebounding Illinois 40-28 while the Illini had just three offensive rebounds in the first half.
For the Illinois Fighting Illini: Michigan 3/2, @ Purdue 3/5
For the Ohio State Buckeyes: Maryland 3/1, @ Michigan State