The Fighting Illini responded well however, securing a nice resume-building victory to earn their first victory in Big Ten play. Brandon Paul led the way with 19 points for Illinois, but it was their defensive effort that ultimately spurned the win.
Buckeyes’ star Deshaun Thomas scored 24 points, but Illinois held Ohio State to only 55 as a team. That defensive statistic will be crucial for the Illini as league play continues, especially given the continued knack for low-scoring affairs in the Big Ten Conference.
In their efforts to avoid a 0-2 start within the conference, Illinois got exactly what they had needed on Saturday afternoon. A season ago, the Fighting Illini got off to a terrific start, only to falter late and miss the NCAA Tournament. This eventually led to the dismissal of Bruce Weber and the hiring of John Groce, who has himself in the discussion for national coach of the year at this point in the season.
At 14-2 overall, Illinois can’t take their victory over Ohio State for granted. Sure, it was a crucial and statement victory in terms of sending a message to the rest of the league, but it’s only one game for the time being. The Big Ten is widely considered to be the nation’s top conference this season and every test is another opportunity to continue moving forward and improving.
In fact, Illinois will now turn their focus to Minnesota on Wednesday, which presents the opportunity for the Illini to grab back-to-back victories over top ten opponents.
Tip-off for Wednesday is scheduled for 9:00pm (EST).
Paul Seaver is the College Basketball Network Manager at Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter: @PaulSeaverRS