Big 10 heavyweight and top-ranked Ohio State used a 14-0 run midway through the second half to take control of a key conference game against upset-minded No. 23 Illinois, and held on for 73-68 road win at Assembly Hall. The Buckeyes remain unbeaten at 20-0.
Buckeye Jared Sullinger was too strong down low for the Illini to handle, finishing with 27 points and 16 boards. Sullinger also made 13 of 15 free throws and Ohio State hit 24 of 27 from the charity stripe as a team. The Buckeye defense shut down the Illinois three-point game and put tight clamps on the overall game of Illinois playmaker Demetri McCamey.
Illinois had come into the game as the second-best three point shooting club in the country, but was held to 4-18 from beyond the arc. McCamey, Illinois’ star point guard and team leader, had a miserable game hitting on only two of 11 field goal attempts, committed four turnovers, rarely drove to the bucket and made a number of ill-advised decisions.
Both teams played a tentative first half like a pair of boxers feeling each other out. The Buckeyes protected a small lead until Illinois closed the half on an 8-0 run for a 34-33 lead. Freshman Jereme Richmond fueled the late flurry with a couple of buckets and three rebounds. Richmond came off the bench providing a spark and was responsible for keeping the Illini in the game with 12 points and six rebounds overall in the half.
After trading punches to begin the second half and tied at 38 all, the Illini went on a 12-4 spurt to to stake their biggest lead of the game 50-42 with 12:53 left. Illinois finally had their frenzied crowd into the game, especially when star guard Demetri McCamey hit his first field goal of the game, he had been 0-5 in the first half.
Ohio State wasted no time as they immediately countered with a 14-0 run. The Buckeyes got to the free throw line and added a trio of long range three-pointers, one by sharp shooter Jon Diebler and a pair by freshman DeShaun Thomas. The push put the Buckeyes up 56-50 with a little over seven minutes to go.
The Buckeyes maintained the lead and looked in control until McCamey was fouled making a two-point bucket and Mike Tisdale was fouled grabbing the offensive rebound on McCamey’s missed free throw for Illinois. Tisdale’s free throws effectively gave the Illini a four-point play, cut the margin to 68-65 with 53 seconds left and gave the Illini a ray of hope.
Illinois even had a chance to tie the game with 10 seconds left and down by three, but McCamey elected to throw the ball inside instead of looking for a three point shooter. Jon Diebler picked off the errant pass and that was the game.
The loss was the third in the last four games for Illinois. Their record stands now at 14-6 and 4-3 in conference action.