First Half Fade

Ohio State closed the first half Sunday with a 12-2 run, ultimately providing the margin for the 68-55 regular-season ending win.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The first 13-plus minutes of Sunday's Illinois-Ohio State matchup was a back-and-forth battle, with the lead exchanging hands nine times and the two teams pulling even with each other on four occasions.

Illinois lead by one with just over seven minutes to play in the opening segment. From there, however, Ohio State used a 12-2 run to take control of the action with a 33-24 lead heading into halftime. Illinois (21-11, 8-10) would not lead again, losing 68-55 in the regular season finale.

"You lose by 13, we fouled there at the end to give them a couple more free throws, but you basically take that 12 to 2 run out we're right there," Illini head coach John Groce said.

For the Illini's part, the run was characterized by poor shooting, turnovers and missed opportunities.

The team finished 1 of 11 from the field during the stretch, missing it's final nine attempts. Good effort and hustle was still there, evidenced by three offensive rebounds, two by Myke Henry and the other grabbed by Devin Langford. But none of those boards led to scores.

"We went back up not as tough as we needed to," Groce said.

Three of the Illini's seven first half turnovers happened during the run, too, adding to the frustration as the Buckeyes asserted control and engaged the sell-out crowd.

"I think as a unit, I think we didn't focus as much as we needed to down the stretch," said Illini senior guard Brandon Paul, who finished with a game-high 21 points. "We knew they were going to make their runs. We needed to figure our a way to sustain those. That first half, they had a chip on their shoulder. It gave them a boost."

The biggest boost of all happened after Groce used his first timeout of the game to calm his troops while the run had yet to hit full stride. Out of the break, Buckeyes pesky reserve Shannon Scott, third in the Big Ten in steals per game, did what he does best. He stole the ball from Paul and seamlessly flicked it ahead to Aaron Craft, who then dramatically threw a pass over his head to Deshaun Thomas for a layup.

"I just knew if I threw it anywhere on the court, Aaron would have a chance to get to it," Scott said.

Craft, talking about his role on the play, said he intuitively knew to, "just throw the ball to the rim and good things happen."

That made the score 28-22, but more importantly, the crowd erupted in approval. The Illini were so rattled, Groce had to burn his second timeout.

Less than 20 seconds had run off the clock, but two Buckeyes buckets and two spent Illini timeouts foreshadowed what was to come.

Ohio State led by 10 or so for most of the second half. The Illini managed to cut the lead to seven with just over eight minutes remaining, but were unable to sustain the same type of run the Buckeyes previously used to ultimately win the game.

When it was all said and done, the two teams essentially played each other even for 33 minutes. But for the seven minutes to end the first half, Ohio State exploited the Illini's weaknesses. And that led to the Buckeyes victory.

"I thought that segment of the game was really the determining factor," Groce said.

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