At first it appeared to be more of the same road struggles that had plagued Ohio State all season when it took on Illinois Thursday night, but the Buckeyes regrouped thanks to a dominating performance on the glass to earn a 68-63 overtime victory, just their second road win of the season.
Illinois (10-11, 2-6) rallied to tie the game late at 58 and had a chance to win on the final possession, but a three-point attempt from Malcolm Hill was blocked by Keita-Bates Diop.
The Buckeyes scored the first four point of overtime, and while the Illini would cut their deficit to one on a Kendrick Nunn three, it was the only field goal the home team would hit in the extra period. Illinois had the ball down three with the shot clock off and Jae’Sean Tate sent Malcolm Hill to the free throw line with a foul off the ball with just over 16 seconds remaining.
JaQuan Lyle, coming off the bench for only the second time in his career, drained a pair of pressure free throws on the next possession for his first and only points of the game. An Illini turnover led to a Mickey Mitchell break away to set the final margin.
Bates-Diop scored 15 points and hauled in 12 rebounds while playing about 50 miles from his home town. Trevor Thompson led the Buckeyes with a career-high 16 points while Marc Loving had 11.
A sluggish start saw Ohio State (14-8, 6-3) allow the Illini to score the game’s first eight points and build an 11-point advantage over the game’s first seven minutes, a stretch that saw Thad Matta’s team hit just one of its seven shots and turn the ball over four times. Despite the poor start, the Buckeyes got the season sweep of Illinois, won their second straight and improved their road record to 2-4 on the season.
Things began to turn around with just over seven minutes left in the first half. Loving hit a three to pull Ohio State within four with 7:27 left in the frame, the closest it had been since trailing 3-0, before the Buckeyes pulled within one score on a possession that defined the first half.
After a block and rebound from Daniel Giddens, who along with point guard A.J. Harris started for the second straight game, the Buckeyes got a rare transition opportunity. Loving missed a three, but Kam Williams was there for the offensive rebound. The shooting guard missed his jumper before another offensive board, this one from Loving, who missed a jumper that was rebounded by Mickey Mitchell. The freshman forward couldn’t finish, but again the Buckeyes came down with the rebound, this one by Giddens, before Williams hit a jumper to make it 19-17 Illinois.
That was part of a 15-3 Ohio State run that closed the half and the Buckeyes took a 29-24 lead to the half as Illinois was held without a field goal for the final 7:47 of the first half. While Matta’s team did not shoot well in the first, hitting just 11 of 35 field goals in the first half (31.4 percent), the Buckeyes hauled in 11 offensive rebounds in the stanza and recorded 10 second-chance points. The Illini had just one offensive rebound in the first half that led to two points.
That extreme advantage on the offensive glass, a combination of poor shooting and aggression from the Buckeyes as well as Illinois’ dedication to getting back in transition, held throughout the game. The Buckeyes finished with 13 offensive rebounds to five for the Illini and the Scarlet and Gray won the battle of the boards 51-34.
Ohio State built its second-half lead to 13, an advantage gained by back-to-back scores by Thompson with 6:34 left. But Illinois wouldn’t go away. The Illini responded with an 8-0 run before Tate hit a layup with 3:01 left to stop the bleeding.
Ohio State came up empty on three consecutive possessions while the Illinois got free throws from Jalen Coleman-Lands and a layup from Maverick Morgan to pull within one possession. Coleman-Lands drilled a game-tying three with 57 seconds left to force overtime, a shot upheld after a lengthy review.