Ohio State 75, Illinois 73
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Illinois coach John Groce thought his team lacked toughness in its Big Ten opening loss against Michigan on Wednesday. They found their competitive spirit between then and Sunday's trip to Ohio State.
But it still wasn't enough.
Ohio State (10-5, 2-0 Big Ten) dominated the boards (42 to 33), points in the paint (30 to 20) and the free-throw line (28 made FTs to the Illini's nine).
Illinois (8-7, 0-2 Big Ten) made 12 three-pointers but shot 32 attempts (of their 65 field goal attempts) from beyond the arc.
Marc Loving led the Buckeyes with 27 points to lead Ohio State to its sixth straight win. JaQuan Lyle added 14 points (all in the second half), Keita Bates-Diop added 11 points and Kam Williams finished with 10 points.
Freshman center Daniel Giddens had five blocks.
Four Illini scored 14 points: Kendrick Nunn (5-for-15 FG), Michael Finke (all in the second half), Jalen Coleman-Lands (5-for-11 FG, 4-for-8 from three) and Malcolm Hill.
For the second straight game, Hill struggled from the field, shooting 4-for-14. He shot 3-for-12 in the Illini's Big Ten opening loss to Michigan.
Hill and Nunn each had seven rebounds.
What it means
For the second straight season, Illinois opened Big Ten play with losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The Illini must again dig out of a deep hole. With Michigan State and Purdue -- two Big Ten title contenders -- up next, Illinois will be heavy underdogs in their next two games. Though they can just look to last season -- an injury-depleted Illini team (without Rayvonte Rice, Aaron Cosby and Tracy Abrams) followed back-to-back losses to start B1G play with a home win over No. 11 Maryland -- as inspiration. Effort and competitiveness are nice but in Year Four there aren't a lot of moral victories for Groce's program, despite injuries.
What went right
The Illini competed much better than they did against Michigan. They survived a few punches to the mouth on the road and swung back several times throughout the game. They just couldn't land the knockout punch.
The Illini played one of their best defensive halves of the season, limiting Ohio State to 8-for-25 from the field in the first half. They forced nine first-half turnovers. Malcolm Hill's defense frustrated Jae'Sean Tate. But the Illini were a bit fortunate freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle picked up two fouls in the first two minutes. He changed the dynamic of the Ohio State offense when he returned.
Coleman-Lands continues to show that he can be one of the most dangerous, streakiest shooters in the Big Ten. Finke was out of sorts and uncomfortable in the first half but asserted himself in the second half.
Illinois continues to take care of the ball at an elite level, finishing with just eight turnovers.
What went wrong
Expectedly, Illinois was crushed on the glass and in the post. Without Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black -- two of the best rebounders in the Big Ten -- the Illini just lack the personnel to compete with most Big Ten teams' size and athleticism.
Likewise, the Illini offense is reliant on its perimeter game, and the Illini struggled from three. Ohio State also struggled from the perimeter but attacked the rim to get to the free-throw line.
The Buckeyes found their offense in the second half, shooting 13-for-25 from the field including 4-for-9 from three. They couldn't keep their hands off of Ohio State in a tightly called game. Alex Austin's late foul was a killer.
Hill struggled to score again. The Illini don't have much of a chance if the junior doesn't produce at a high level.
Stars of the game
Marc Loving and JaQuan Lyle: Loving attacked the hoop and got to the free-throw line (15-for-19) on the way to a career-high 27 points. Lyle's return in the second half changed the Buckeyes offense. He created points for himself (14 points in 20 second-half minutes) and others (five assists).
The Illini head to Michigan State (14-1, 1-1 Big Ten) for an 8 p.m. Thursday tipoff at the Breslin Center. The Spartans likely will lose their No. 1 ranking following a loss at Iowa. The Illini could be catching Michigan State at an opportune time. Reports suggest Sparty star and National Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury, will miss Thursday's game as well. Michigan State is a much different team without the do-everything guard, who leads the Spartans in points (18.5), rebounds (8.3), assists (7.1) and steals (1.0). Tom Izzo's team needed overtime to beat a good Oakland team, 99-93; lost at Iowa; and struggled in a 69-61 win against Big Ten bottom feeder Minnesota. Illinois also isn't as afraid of the Izzone as others after winning back-to-back games at Breslin.