A lot of things went in to Ohio State’s second Big Ten win in as many attempts.
There was the massive disparity at the free throw line – Ohio State made 28 while Illinois attempted just 11. There was Marc Loving asserting his dominance, scoring a career-high 27. And there was the rim protection from the Buckeyes as the team blocked nine shots.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons the Buckeyes topped Illinois 75-73 was the play of JaQuan Lyle in the second half. The point guard sat for 18 minutes of the first half after picking up two quick fouls and turning the ball over twice in the game’s first two minutes.
While A.J. Harris played well in reserve – playing a career-high 18 minutes in the first half recording 5 rebounds and two points – the Buckeyes needed Lyle in the second half and he delivered. The freshman point guard scored 14 points with five assists, four rebounds and no turnovers while playing the final 20 minutes.
“I told him, I said, ‘Your ass should be rested. There’s no question about that,’” head coach Thad Matta said after the game. “I didn’t know because I think that, I couldn’t be happier with the way he came out and played.
“It was nothing strategic it was just get out there and play and get back in to the flow. I told him when he picked up his second I said, ‘You’ve got to sit over here and pay great attention to what’s going on in terms of what they’re trying to do,’ and I thought he did that because defensively he was really good as well.”
Lyle got going immediately after his long rest, scoring the first dour points of the second half.
The point guard was aggressive throughout the final 20 minutes, combining with Loving to score 30 of the Buckeyes 45 second-half points.
“My mindset coming into the second half was that I was fresh, everybody else had been playing the whole first 20 minutes so I just took advantage of it,” Lyle said. “When I came off the first couple screens at the beginning, I don’t know if he was tired or what, but my legs was fresh and I got a couple layups and just made plays.”
Free Throw Success: Remember when free throw shooting was a massive concern for this team? Not anymore.
During a four-game nonconference losing streak the Buckeyes hit just 57.6 percent of their free throws (49 of 85). Last night against Illinois they hit 71.8 percent (28 of 39).
It helps when your best free throw shooters are the ones going to the line. Loving, who has hit 77.6 percent of his free throws this season, attempted 19 against the Illini and hit 14. Jae’Sean Tate, meanwhile, has hit just 51.1 percent of his tries this season, but did not make a trip to the line against Illinois.
Stopping Illini’s Top Dogs: Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill entered the game scoring 19.0 and 18.1 points per game respectively for the Illini, but both were held below those averages with14 apiece against the Buckeyes.
While both got their double digits, they had to work hard to get there. Nunn needed 15 shots to get his 14 points and he missed six of eight three pointers, after entering the game hitting 38.8 percent. Hill needed 13 shots to get 14 points and was 1 of 5 from three.
“I think that we’re getting there,” Matta said of team defense. “I do think we’re understanding scouting more. The first three that Nunn hit was on a great pass by (Illinois game Jaylon) Tate and they kind of got us on that, but we’ve got to continue to build it and I like the direction we’re heading with our defense.”