Seriously, you need multiple hands to count all the positives that came out of the Illinois game for the Buckeyes. Here's a quick tally:
David Lighty snapped out of his offensive funk and put together one of the best individual stretches I have seen during his career. Deshaun Thomas followed suit and hit a few baskets, breaking a nasty slide and seemingly regaining some confidence. Jon Diebler put the ball on the floor, got to the basket a few times and did not look completely out of place.
Collectively, the Buckeyes committed only three turnovers and harassed the Fighting Illini into committing 16 of their own. They became the first team to shoot better than 50 percent against Illinois in 38 games, finishing at 53.0 percent. They had five players finish in double figures.
Following the loss to Purdue, it is safe to say that much of the country overreacted. Yes, that gave the Buckeyes two losses in three games, but they came against top-10 teams playing on their respective home courts. When you looked at the OSU schedule before the season started and circled games the Buckeyes might lose, those two were at the absolute top of the list.
What worked against them was the fact that those games came in the span of eight days. Had the Buckeyes lost to Wisconsin in mid-January and then to Purdue in mid-February, few would connect dots between the teams. Instead, their proximity on the schedule led many to believe that the sky was falling in Columbus.
This team is just fine.
I think … that this game showed that it is possible for the Buckeyes to put forth a dominating victory without Jared Sullinger carrying them on his shoulders.
Sure, he still finished with a double-double – 12 points and 11 rebounds – but it was hardly a dominating performance from the freshman. This game was won on the perimeter, where Aaron Craft, Diebler, Lighty and William Buford harassed the Illini and found ample driving room at the other end of the court.
It served as a reminder that there are multiple ways that this OSU team can hurt you.
One more thought on Sullinger, however: the big guy looks a little winded. He's getting the stuffing knocked out of him on a nightly basis and it looks like it might be catching up with him. Getting out of Big Ten play and into games where he might not get beaten on all game could do him a world of good.
I think … that although Buford is clearly playing some of the best basketball of his career, the makeup of his game lends itself more to scoring slumps than the rest of his teammates.
When your go-to shot is a mid-range jumper, sometimes it just is not going to be there. In the first half, it was on for Buford. His 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting in the first half prove that, especially given that he was 1 of 3 from three-point range. In the second half, he was 0 for 5 with all but one of his attempts coming from inside the arc.
It just shows that when Buford is on, you absolutely have to get him the ball.
I think … that Craft will not get a lot of love for his performance in this one, but he should.
Twelve points on 5 of 9 shooting, six assists against no turnovers and two steals while guarding Demetri McCamey for much of the game? Thad Matta will take that every day of the week – and so would every other Big Ten coach.
Craft also had a number of hustle plays that will not show up in the box score or in game recaps. On one, he leaped high into the air to snare a loose ball. Securing it with both arms as he landed, contact forced him to the ground but he was still able to roll the ball out of harm's way and into the hands of a teammate.
The freshman is the kind of player Illinois head coach Bruce Weber has been hoping McCamey would become for four years now.
I think … that the biggest boost from this game will go to Thomas, the much-maligned freshman.
Thomas' numbers entering this one were not pretty, and it was clearly affecting his play. For him to hit a three-pointer and follow that up with a three-point play took a ton of pressure off his shoulders.
Make no mistake about it: for OSU to make a deep tournament run, it will need Thomas to contribute. Six points off the bench will be huge come March.
Now, if he can only tighten up that defense a little bit…