Weber reverted to coachspeak, saying they had simply found ways to win games when many other teams would have lost. In other words, they had essentially gotten lucky.
In front of a hostile crowd in a nationally televised contest, the Buckeyes put their faith in freshman Jared Sullinger rather than luck and he delivered. Sullinger went the distance, scoring 27 points and grabbing 16 rebounds as OSU rallied for a 73-68 victory against the No. 23 Fighting Illini.
With senior David Lighty and junior William Buford struggling from the floor, OSU head coach Thad Matta found himself unable to remove the freshman forward from the lineup. He carried the Buckeyes (20-0, 7-0 Big Ten) through an early second-half swoon and helped fend off rally after rally from the Illini (14-6, 4-3).
Sullinger scored the first eight points of the second half for the Buckeyes, helping keep his team in striking distance as the Illini opened up a lead that stretched as high as eight points with 12:51 remaining. Only then did he get some help from his teammates.
Senior guard Jon Diebler hit a pair of free throws at the 11:39 mark to make it 50-44 in favor of the home team and end a 13-4 run by Illinois. It was the start of a 14-0 run that gave the Buckeyes a lead they would never relinquish.
But even with the lead back up to eight points with 4:22 remaining on a pair of free throws from – who else? – Sullinger, the Buckeyes found themselves hanging on for dear life. The Illini cut it to a three-point lead before it was pushed back up to seven, and from there the home team mounted its final charge.
A 7-1 run set the score at 69-68 in favor of OSU with 16.8 seconds remaining, but freshman Aaron Craft and Buford each connected on a pair of free throws from there to set the final score.
Although the Illini boast more size inside, they had no answers for Sullinger. Despite suffering a bloody nose in the first half that required him to play with tissue paper balled up inside his left nostril, he consistently found himself at the charity stripe as his teammates found him with the ball. He responded by going 13 for 15 from the line.
Meanwhile, one of Sullinger's classmates was keeping Illinois' key player under wraps. Craft harassed Demetri McCamey for nearly the entire game and held him to five points on 2 of 11 shooting. The freshman also handed out four assists and did not commit a turnover in 31 minutes of action.
Diebler was the only other Buckeye to score in double figures, finishing with 15 and a key steal at the end of the game. With the score at 71-68, McCamey tried to find Tisdale in the lane after a pick-and-roll but Diebler deflected the ball out of the center's hands. Sullinger recovered and called timeout with four seconds remaining.
Lighty went 3 of 14 from the floor including a pair of airballs from three-point range for nine points but did have four assists and just one turnover. Buford, meanwhile, was 2 of 8 from the field and scored seven points. He sat for significant portions of the game down the stretch and was replaced by freshman Deshaun Thomas, who added eight points in the second half.
The first half featured eight ties or lead changes, the final of which allowed the home team to head to intermission with a one-point lead.
With the score knotted at 26 and McCamey on the bench with two personal fouls, the Buckeyes put together a 7-0 run on a trey from Lighty, a pair of free throws from Jared Sullinger and a drive by Craft to make it 33-26.
From there, however, the Illinois scored the final eight points to grab the 34-33 lead. The final basket came thanks to D.J. Richardson, who hit on a jumper from the free-throw line with about 30 seconds remaining to answer a driving, spinning miss from Sullinger at the other end.
The Buckeyes missed their final four shots of the half, their last one being a drive from Craft that was rejected by Mike Davis at the rim in the final seconds. Illinois took possession and pushed the ball up the court to get one final shot off, but reserve Jereme Richmond's three-point attempt at the buzzer did not fall.
With McCamey being dogged by Craft for the first half, the team's leading scorer was essentially a non factor. He missed all three attempts from the floor and had three turnovers against two assists in the first half.
In his absence, the Illini got major contributions from Richardson and Brandon Paul. After OSU opened up its biggest lead of the half at 20-12 with 10:10 remaining when Sullinger knocked down a jumper, but Illinois regained the lead at 24-23 thanks to a 12-3 run during which the duo contributed all 12 points.
Richmond went first, scoring the first six points. His second of the three baskets came on backdoor cuts that freed him from OSU's David Lighty. Paul put up the final six points of the run on a three-pointer and a three-point play that came after McCamey came up with a steal at the other end of the court.
At the break, Richmond had 12 points and six boards on 6 of 9 shooting while Paul had eight points. Richmond finished with a team-high 18 points while center Mike Tisdale added 15 and forward Mike Davis had 11.