Yes, I realize that was the sentiment across the country, but there was good reason to expect that. Illinois had plenty to be upset about considering that the Buckeyes beat them three times last season and knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament with a victory in the Big Ten tournament. Plus, OSU embarrassed the Illini on their home court last season.
The Buckeyes had been tested on the road at Iowa and Michigan, but this was a whole new level of challenge facing them. This was a quality foe playing in front of a passionate crowd with a full student section in effect.
The road will obviously get tougher from here with the likes of Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State all looming ahead on the schedule. But right now, after this win, you would be hard-pressed to pick OSU to lose in any of them. Running the table still might be out of this team's grasp, but I am not sure you can point to one game as the one the Buckeyes will lose after they pulled this one out.
I think … that to describe Jared Sullinger's efforts as anything less than Herculean would be a gross injustice.
I almost find myself at a loss as to how to write about his performance against Illinois. I can not recall the last time I saw a big man go a full 40 minutes in a physical, up-and-down contest like the one we saw Saturday and not only contribute but literally carry his team to victory.
In the second half, Sullinger was the only thing the Buckeyes had going for them. Buford's shot was off and Lighty could seem to not hold onto the ball. Jon Diebler was being taken out of the game by a taller opponent and Aaron Craft was shutting down Demetri McCamey while also facilitating the offense.
The only one scoring was Sullinger. Not only that, but he was an absolute force at both ends of the court. His line of 27 points and 16 rebounds is impressive enough, but also consider the fact that he did not commit a turnover. Not one. With the team's offense flowing exclusively through him and everyone in the world aware of that fact.
Yet another huge game for the big man who might be more difficult to keep in Columbus for another year with every game that passes. And let's not forget the bloody nose that could not keep him off the court.
I think … that for all the criticism leveled at Deshaun Thomas in the past few weeks, he deserves a hearty pat on the back for his performance in this one.
With Buford sidelined with a sore ankle, the freshman came into the game and continued to show his love of shooting. This time, however, he came up with big shots at big times. It was Thomas who tied the game at 50 with a three-pointer, and it was him again who pushed the lead to six after Diebler hit a trey to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the second half.
His eight points were desperately needed with Lighty and Buford struggling. It helped make up for a disappointing first half where he picked up two quick fouls and put head coach Thad Matta into a bind by removing one of his few bench options from consideration.
Big stepping stone for the freshman, who just might be starting to accept his role on the team.
I think … that if this keeps up, Aaron Craft might find himself up for several awards at the end of the season.
It is hard to picture Big Ten freshman of the year going to anybody but Sullinger at this point, but Craft has to be the leader in the clubhouse for sixth man of the year. After he dominated Demetri McCamey all game long, he might find himself in the running for defender of the year.
McCamey's stat line bears repeating. In 31 minutes, he missed nine of 11 shots, had five assists but four turnovers and committed three fouls. Craft even drew two charges on him and would have drawn a third had the official not completely missed the call.
Lighty said he sees shades of himself in Craft when it comes to defense as a freshman. If he continues to progress, Craft will surpass the fifth-year senior as a defender before all is said and done.