What a difference a week makes. Last week, Illinois played at a magical level against Michigan State, and the crowd made the Assembly Hall shake with electricity. This week, Ohio State zoomed out to an early lead and never looked back. The crowd had little to cheer in the 72-53 result.
Illini coach Bruce Weber noticed the change.
"A few days can make a big difference in how you feel. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. To Ohio State's credit, they came out and took it to us right from the get-go. They definitely took the noise, the energy out of the place. It was totally different than last week. That's what you've got to do on the road."
Make no mistake, the Buckeye starting five can play with most any team in the country when they are on their games. But it is also true the Illini had a less than stellar effort Sunday.
"I don't think we took them lightly, but I don't think we prepared as well as we should have," Weber recalled. "I guess it's human nature, everyone telling you how good you are. But they've dealt with it, they've won nine in a row in the league. They came out and played at a high level. I was hoping they wouldn't play at a high level."
From the start, the Illini were off their game. While the Buckeyes were hitting 50% of their three point shots, the Illini couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Their shots didn't just miss but missed badly. Ohio State shot 53.1% for the game, while Illinois raised their percentage late to a still meager 34.3%.
"It just didn't seem to be our day," Weber reflected. "A couple layins hung on the rim, tipins a couple times don't go down. We've had good things go our way, but today obviously it wasn't.
"A lot of it had to do with them. I was really worried about whether we could guard them. They have so many weapons, and then when you throw in 11-22 from three, it makes it even more difficult."
The Buckeyes surprised by starting off in a 1-3-1 zone defense, and their length bothered the Illini. Weber prepared his players for it, but seeing it in a game is different than practice.
"They usually don't start out in the 1-3-1. We didn't do a very good job attacking it. We actually practiced against it all week, but we didn't deal with their length. In practice, you can't always simulate that."
This game was labeled as a personal tussle between high school teammates Evan Turner and Demetri McCamey. Turner was just two assists short of a triple double, but it was his teammates who made the win possible. Jon Diebler hit 6 of 11 threes, and David Lighty added 17 points. Weber knew he would be in trouble if all the OSU players were playing at peak efficiency.
"When Diebler's on, he's on. He's one of the better shooters in the country. He hit some tough threes. He's flying off screens, turning his body and making shots. And Lighty is a real tough matchup for us. He not only can beat us on the drive, but then when he makes the threes it makes it tough for us to guard him."
McCamey ended with just 9 points, hitting only 4-12 shots. He added 9 assists and could have had more, but the quality of his game waned as the game moved along and the outcome was more certain according to Weber.
"He had nine assists, and if we catch the ball three times on layups he has twelve. And if we make any shots at all, he probably has 13-14 assists.
"He got frustrated as the game went on. He started putting his head down and missed a couple guys I thought he should have passed to. We had a little talk there. He can't get frustrated with his teammates.
"He's gotten way better at finding open men, seeing it, reading the defense. But when he put his head down, he was gonna go no matter what. If we're gonna win, other guys have to play well and make shots. And that makes him even better."
McCamey said the result could be useful in the long run.
"I think this is a good wakeup call for us. It brought us back down to earth and made us humble. I don't think we did anything well, to tell the truth."
No Illini player hit double figures. Mike Davis, Bill Cole and Mike Tisdale added 8 each to support McCamey. Illinois actually rebounded OSU by 5 and almost doubled them on points in the paint. But the onslaught of threes was too much to overcome.
The Buckeyes shot 65% through the first 13 minutes, and it demoralized the Illini to the point they doubted their ability to recovery. Little by little, panic replaced determination according to Weber.
"I kept telling them we need a sense of urgency, not a sense of panic. But we just couldn't get anything going. I'm not sure anyone played well. I don't think anyone picked up anyone else verbally through encouraging. That was probably the biggest setback."
The Illini now have a bye week, their next game at Purdue next Saturday. So the schedule gets no easier. Their rematch with Ohio State looms in a little over two weeks, and the Columbus tilt is a daunting task. As Weber reminds, the Illini need to improve.
"They're killing people at home. They killed us here. They're on a pretty good run. We've just got to get better and see if we can compete with them next time."