The Illini turned in one of their poorest offensive efforts in recent memory, shooting a horrid 24.1% from the field while losing 62-44, in their worst home loss since 1976.
"We're struggling. Obviously, we've hit a low point," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose team fell to 0-2 in the league and 12-5 overall. "I didn't think it was effort tonight. In the Xavier game, and in the Michigan game (both losses), I thought it was effort. Tonight we battled. You've got to make some shots. When you don't make shots, you try to make plays that aren't there."
Illinois, on the heels of a two game losing streak, was able to stay close in the first half as neither team shot well at the start. Illinois had a three point lead midway through the first half after a Calvin Brock jumper, then Ohio State went on a 24-5 run over a 6 minute span, fueled by a string of three point baskets by Othello Hunter, Ron Lewis, and a pair by Jamar Butler. The Illini again proved susceptible to dribble penetration, and Ohio State scored many of their points in that stretch after Mike Conley and Butler penetrated and kicked out to the wings for open looks. In the meantime, Illinois couldn't buy a basket, going 2-11 from the field during the same stretch, and also had 3 turnovers as Ohio State extended their lead to 16 points, and went into halftime up by 14, 36-22.
"They're such a good team," said Weber. "That five minute spurt in the first half-boom, they go three 3's in a row, and that's a backbreaker when you can't score as it is." "That was the ballgame right there when they made that run," added forward Warren Carter.
Illinois shot 22.6 % from the field in the first half, and only 14.3% from behind the arc. Warren Carter was the only bright spot for the Illini with 9 points and 6 rebounds. Ohio State was significantly better from the field, hitting at a 41% clip, and hit 46% of their 3 point attempts.
"They had good looks-it was one of those situations where shots didn't fall for them," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, an Illinois native.
The teams traded baskets though much of the second half until Ohio State went on a 8-0 run midway through the half, punctuated by an Oden dunk which pushed their lead out to 24 at 55-31 with just over 9 minutes left. The Illini were never able to muster a sustained run, and Ohio State ran clock the remainder of the game.
The Illini were led in scoring by Carter, who finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Chester Frazier also had 8 boards. No one else on the Illini finished in double figures in scoring. The Illini hit only 3 of 23 three point attempts, with Carter, Frazier, and Smith each hitting one. Smith suffered through one of his worst shooting nights of his career, going 1-9 from the field, and 1-7 from behind the arc. Rich McBride went 0-6 from behind the arc (but scored 4 points on pull-up jumpers, a move long awaited by Illinois fans), and Brian Randle, who came into the game hitting 60% from long range in limited attempts, went 0-3 from deep.
Oden's length seemed to bother Illinois inside, and he ended the game with 15 rebounds and 4 blocks to go along with his 7 points. The blocks were somewhat unnecessary, since Illinois only made 14 shots the entire game.
There were a few bright spots. Shaun Pruitt played strong defense on Greg Oden, and Brian Rnadle showed flashes of coming back to form, scoring once and drawing fouls 3 additional times on drives to the hoop. Illinois also had 7 blocked shots, with freshman Brian Carlwell getting 3, along with Carter's 3 and Pruitt had 1. The Illini also hit 13 of 16 free throws. Illinois also held OSU to their lowest field goal percentage and second lowest scoring output of the year.
"I think Illinois is one of the top college basketball programs in the country," said Matta. "The job that Coach Weber and his staff have done here-he's won 90% of his games. Every team has peaks and valleys. We got our asses handed to us by Florida by 26 points, and people filled our place the next day. This is going to be a very good basketball team."
Matta's comments will probably do little to soothe the Illini faithful, who have seen their team lose three games in a row for the first time in the Weber era. The Illini will face Iowa on Wednesday at Assembly Hall, and have a chance to bounce back. "This better be rock bottom for us," said Carter. "I don't ever want to feel like this again. We've got to come in hungry. We've got to get Rich going again, we've got to get Brian going again."