Ohio State 75, Illinois 73 - FINAL
Coleman-Lands and Hill both hit threes in the final 10 seconds to keep the Illini alive. Hill even had a three-quarters court heave at the buzzer but it was left. The Illini certainly battled, and Groce will love the fight his group showed. Close but no cigar, though.
Ohio State 70, Illinois 67 - 23.2 secs left
Groce calls a timeout after a Finke tip-in. The Illini will need some help, though. The killer was a foul by Austin against Lyle. Bad matchup for him at the wrong time. Illini fans won't like it - being that Austin has been praised as the team's best perimeter defender.
Ohio State 61, Illinois 61 - 3:41 left
This one has turned into a pretty darn good basketball game. The Illini erased that eight-point defecit with a 10-2 run. Finke has really stepped up and made some big shots. That three from the corner gave Illinois' their first lead since the first half. Groce made a good move by going zone out of a timeout, and that made things tough on Ohio State. But the Buckeyes just got an easy drive and flush from Loving. Here we go.
Ohio State 59, Illinois 51 - 7:33 left
Groce calls a timeout after three straight hoops for the Buckeyes. The Illini cut it to two but Kam Williams buried a three at the other end. Williams added another jumper and then Lyle executed a nifty drive and finish. This is crunch time for Illinois. They have brought the effort and toughness today - no question about it. But they have to make some big plays down the stretch to steal a win on the road.
Ohio State 50, Illinois 44 - 11:39 left
I'm typing this extra carefully so I don't get called for a foul. Ohio State is already in the bonus with nine fouls on the Illini this half. Illinois is just one more foul away from being in the bonus. The excessive whistles have slowed down the flow that this game had at the beginning of the half. Meanwhile, Hill still can't seem to break through offensively. He has seven points but he's just 2-of-9 from the field. Hill has to avoid pressing for his shot, while also remaining aggressive.
Ohio State 46, Illinois 41 - 14:17 left
After a defensive battle for most of the first half, both offenses have it going through the first five-plus minutes of the second frame. Finke buried a pair of threes, which were huge. He looked out of sorts in the first half but he could be big down the stretch. The Illini have to get stops, though. Ohio State is shooting 71.4 percent already this half, and they continue to get to the line. Illinois is shooting 50 percent in the second half to this point, and they've hit three long balls.
Ohio State 30, Illinois 26 - HALF
FG: 34% (10-29)
3FG: 29% (4-14)
REB: 13 (2 OFF)
Nunn: 9 pts (4-9)
Coleman-Lands: 6 pts (2-5)
Morgan: 4 pts (2-4)
Hill: 3 pts (1-6)
Austin: 3 pts (1-2)
Williams: 1 pt
Finke: 0 pts (0-2)
FG: 32% (8-25)
3FG: 17% (1-6)
REB: 24 (7 OFF)
Loving: 11 pts (2-4)
Bates-Diop: 11 pts (4-9)
Tate: 2 pts (1-4)
Mitchell: 2 pts
Harris: 2 pts (1-4)
Williams: 2 pts (0-1)
Lyle: 0 pts (0-1)
The Illini just played their best defensive half of the season - holding Ohio State to just eight buckets in the first 20 minutes. That is the fewest field goals they have allowed in a half. It hasn't been the best looking basketball anyone has ever seen, but the Illini are in this one. The key going forward is obvious. How will the Illini adjust in the locker room? Can they be sound with their adjustments and outscore the opponent in the second half for the first time in six games?
Hill has done a great job guarding Tate but the Illini need more from him offensively. But at least his effort level is there, and the Orange and Blue aren't dictating their defensive showing on whether shots are going in. It will be interesting to see how Lyle looks for OSU after playing just two minutes in the first half. Expect a grinder until the end. And with the way this season has gone, that's not necessarily a bad thing for the Illini.
Ohio State 26, Illinois 25 - 2:27 left until half
The Illini came to battle today at the defensive end. Hill is doing a great job on Tate, who has just two points on 1-of-4 shooting. The Buckeyes are shooting just 26.1 percent from the field to this point. Half of their points have come from the line. Illinois needs to do their best to limit second-chance opportunities. But they have been as good as they've been this season at stopping dribble penetration. Offensively, the Illini are shooting 40 percent from the field. Chance to grab the lead going into halftime.
Ohio State 18, Illinois 17 - 7:42 left until half
They say it's a game of runs, right? The Illini managed to withstand an 18-2 run by Ohio State and responded with a 9-0 run of their own. It started with a three by Alex Austin of all people. He was shooting 15 percent from deep heading into this one. Then, Hill made a big play by grabbing a Finke miss and finishing through contact for an and-one putback. Nunn also joined the party with his second three of the game. If Hill and Nunn have it going, the Illini will be in it until the end.
Ohio State 12, Illinois 8 - 11:53 left until half
The Illini offense is struggling mightily right now. They went on a five-plus minute scoring drought before a Nunn jumper ended that. Ohio State is top-25 in the country in defensive efficiency. They challenge you with their length and don't give up buckets around the rim. The Illini might have to see if they can get to the free throw line. That is where the Buckeyes have scored seven of their 12 points. Illinois is shooting just 25 percent from the field, but they are only down four. Not the prettiest brand of basketball, but this is the grind of the Big Ten.
Illinois 6, Ohio State 3 - 15:28 left until half
Coleman-Lands has it going from deep early on with a pair of triples. His stroke is purer than bottled water. Meanwhile, the Illini put together a good start at the defensive end. They forced four stops in a row, and three of them resulted in Ohio State fouls. The Buckeyes have three turnovers already, and Lyle has two of those. He will do that if you pressure the ball and cut off the passing lanes.
Ohio State starters
5 minutes until tipoff
Let's dive into the JaQuan Lyle time machine, shall we? He did not do the Illini any favors when it comes to recruiting a point guard. Lyle was once an Illini target and visited Champaign back during the Bruce Weber era. Ultimately, his grades were a mess - which is why he didn't make it Oregon and had to go to prep school before ending up at Ohio State. But at one time, he was committed to Louisville, which made Quentin Snider unhappy. Snider decommitted and eventually pledged to Illinois after great official visit and in-home with Groce. The Illini had their point guard and Groce looked like a magic man on the recruiting trail. But Lyle decommitted from Louisville and Snider hopped back to his hometown program. Lyle certianly milked his recruitment for all it was worth. He even talked with Cliff Alexander about being a package deal. Oh, recruiting...
But fast forward to now. Lyle is going to be a big key in this one. He is a tough, physical point guard at 6-foot-5. Lyle makes the Buckeyes offense go, and he had 13 assists last game against Minnesota. Matta desperately needed someone on this roster to step up and be a playmaker after D'Angelo Russell bolted to the NBA. Lyle has answered that call. But he's still not a true point guard, and he has a tendency to turn it over. He is averaging three giveaways per game, so look for the Illini to try and apply pressure. As I wrote in the preview, Illinois has to win the battles on the perimeter because they are going to be outmatched down low. The Illini interior defense has been un-good to put it nicely.
20 minutes until tipoff
They just showed a highlight on the videoboard of Evan Turner hitting a halfcourt buzzer-beater against Michigan in the 2010 Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. I was in attendance as a freshman in college at Illinois. That shot had some unfortunate significance for the Illini. They stumbled down the stretch of Big Ten play but had a chance for the dance if they made some noise in the Big Ten tourney. I packed four suits expecting for them to get it done. Michigan would have been a much easier matchup, but instead, they got Ohio State and fell in double overtime.
Back to the present day. Illini assistant coach Dustin Ford has had plenty of friendly faces come visit him during warmups. He is from Cambridge, Ohio - which is about an hour east of here. Ford went on to hoop at Ohio University, where he was a sharpshooter from deep. I know, I never would have guessed that either. Ford has been big on recruiting the state of Ohio, and he finally got one in transfer wing Kipper Nichols - who joined the team last week. He also recruited Xavier Simpson (Michigan commit) and Carlton Bragg (Kansas freshman). Four-star 2017 power forward Derek Culver is a high priority now.
I'm excited to get going over here. This will be the fourth Big Ten arena where I have attended a game. In addition to the State Farm Center, I've made a few trips to Bloomington for Illinois-Indiana games. I also went up to Northwestern a few years ago to see my brother, Josh, play with Eastern Illinois against the Wildcats.
35 minutes until tipoff
Hello and Happy New Year from Columbus. I have arrived at Value City Arena, as the Illini (8-6, 0-1) get ready to take on Ohio State (9-5, 1-0). John Groce and his squad have to happy about the turn of the calendar after an excruciating second half of 2015. Not many teams are sitting in January with three projected starters on the sidelines, but that's where the Illini are at. Still, they want to put a better product on the floor.
Malcolm Hill said yesterday that this team's New Year's resolution is to close games out in the second half. Illinois held a three-point lead against Michigan in the Big Ten opener, but they were outscored 44-31 after halftime. The Illini have to find a way to end that trend of being outplayed in the final 20 minutes. We'll see if that changes today.
Had a smooth drive over from Champaign this morning. Parking was a little bit of a pain. Got my Sunday workout in walking to will call, which wasn't easy to find. But credit to the event staff over here for being helpful and friendly.
Ohio State assistant coach Greg Paulus is out on the court shooting some jumpers. I'll let it be known that he wasn't one of my favorite players in college basketball when he suited up at Duke - and that's a definite understatement. But I met him on the AAU circuit one summer and he's a good dude.
Groce and Thad Matta are obviously close after spending eight seasons on staff together. Groce defeated Matta in Champaign 74-55 in 2013 during his first Big Ten game as a head coach. Since then, Matta is 4-0 against Groce. The Buckeyes have won nine of their last 10 at home against Illinois. But if you want a reason to feel good, Big Ten teams were 4-2 on the road yesterday.
For more on this matchup, check out my preview HERE.