The same two schools were back in Value City Arena Sunday, and the result this time could not be construed by anybody as a fluke.
No. 19 Ohio State turned up the defense and turned out 10th-ranked Illinois 69-53 before a raucous sellout crowd of 18,500.
OSU followed up a 94-85 win at No. 22 Michigan on Thursday, marking the first time in five years that the Buckeyes (18-3, 7-3) have defeated ranked teams in the same week.
The win also gave Ohio State sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, a half-game behind Iowa (19-6, 8-3). Illinois (20-4, 6-4) dropped below Wisconsin (17-7, 7-4) and into a tie with Michigan State (18-6, 6-4) for fourth.
Unlike a year ago – when fans stormed the floor after the win over the improbable win over the Illini – Matta was glad to see how his team reacted to this victory.
"The jubilation we had in our locker room last year was something," Matta said. "Today, it was very low key after the game, which I liked. That was the season finale last year. As you look at it now, we still have six games to play and a lot of work to do. We have six great challenges ahead of us. That's why it's important that we understand that.
"We have beaten two top-25 teams this week, and I think that's a tremendous week for us. Now we need to go back to work on Monday and try to steal another win on the road," added Matta, whose team visits Wisconsin Wednesday.
Ohio State's big three of Jamar Butler, Je'Kel Foster and Terence Dials came up huge as the Buckeyes claimed their fourth straight win.
Butler followed a career-high 20-point game at Michigan on Thursday by leading OSU with 22 points and four assists. He was 8 of 11 from the floor, including 5 of 6 on three-pointers.
"I have a little bit more confidence now and my shots are falling for me," Butler said. "I'm getting plays offensively off other players."
Foster continued his torrid pace with 18 points, three assists and three steals. He was 6 of 8 on three-point tries.
"Our main focus today was taking care of the ball," Foster said. "We wanted to share the ball and play within our system. I credit my teammates for doing that."
Dials, coming off a tough game at Michigan, came up big against the Illini. He had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, connecting on 8 of 13 shots from the floor.
"I just tried to stay aggressive," said Dials, whose 16 boards were a Value City Arena record. "My last game was not one of my best games. It was probably one of my worst. I tried to erase the memory of that and just come out and play as hard as possible. If I play hard, good things will happen.
"As a team, we wanted to put two halves together. It's been a long time since we've done that. This is satisfying. We know in the Big Ten anything can happen. We just wanted to take care of our home court. Mission accomplished."
OSU was 56.5 percent (13 of 23) on three-pointers for the game. This marked the ninth time this year the Buckeyes made 10 or more three-pointers.
Meanwhile, the OSU defense did a number on the Illini, holding Illinois to 37.3 percent shooting (22 of 59) from the floor.
"I thought we came out a little casual and let them dictate the tempo," said Illini coach Bruce Weber. "But they played at a high level. They're good. They shoot big-time shots. They're shooting the ball well."
Dee Brown led Illinois with 12 points. Butler had strong defense on him all day and Brown finished 5 of 13 from the floor with four turnovers.
James Augustine added 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Foster also did the job on Illini guard Richard McBride, who was averaging 10 points a game coming in. McBride ended up 1 of 8 from the floor and scored three points.
"Foster did a good job on Rich," Weber said. "He never let him get going. He D'd up Rich early in the game."
Foster canned all five of his three-point shots to score 15 of his points in the first half as the Buckeyes cruised to a 37-26 lead. In the first half, OSU hit 8 of 12 shots from behind the three-point arc.
"Coming out of the locker room, we were saying that we wanted to throw the first punch," Foster said. "That's what we did."
Dials got it started by backing his defender down and hitting a turning bank shot. Foster then canned a three from the right wing off a feed from J.J. Sullinger. Those two hooked up for another Foster three that put OSU up 8-2 with 17:30 left in the half.
Foster nailed another three from the top off a feed from Ron Lewis for a 19-11 lead with 12:41 left in the half. Butler then canned a pair of threes off his own dribble to push the lead to 25-15 with 10:03 left in the half.
Foster hit another three off an inside-out pass from Matt Terwilliger and, after Illinois' Chester Frazier threw the ball away, Foster struck again with a trey off a pass from Matt Sylvester to put Ohio State ahead 31-16 with 7:10 left.
"We knew Illinois would be hungry," Matta said. "They had not played for eight days. We wanted to make sure they did not get off to a quick start like they did here last year. It was 16-4 and we had to play from behind. The environment and the crowd here today were truly amazing."
Illinois reeled off six straight points as Brian Randle made a 15-foot jumper, Augustine scored off a pass from Brown and Augustine made a spinning hook shot to cut the lead to 31-22 with 4:15 left in the half.
Dials completed a nifty alley-oop pass from Sylvester, but Augustine answered with a 16-foot jumper. Dials made a pair of free throws with 3:15 left, then hit a hook shot with 2:28 left for a 37-24 lead. Randle's layup with 2:03 left cut the OSU lead at the half to 37-26.
Ohio State – and most notably Butler – exploded out of the half as the Buckeyes quickly built their 11-point lead to 20.
Illinois had the ball to open the half, but Foster got his hand on the ball and saved it to Butler. He was headed in one-on-one on Brown, but he backed up and nailed a three-pointer just 20 seconds into the half.
"I got the ball from Je'Kel and saw his (Brown's) hands were down and I just took the shot," Butler said.
Then, after a Sullinger steal, Sullinger faked to Foster and rifled a pass to Butler out top. He hit another three and OSU was up 43-26 with 19:06 left in the game.
"That was a key stretch to start the second half," Weber said. "We turn the ball over and Butler makes a three. Then, they shut us out and he hits another three in transition. Instead of us getting it down to single digits, we had to come back from a large margin."
Randle then made a layup for Illinois. But Sylvester made a pair of free throws and Butler fired another three off a feed from Sylvester for a 48-28 lead with 18:03 left.
OSU enjoyed its largest lead at 53-32 on a Lewis three-pointer off another Sylvester assist with 13:40 left.
This is where Illinois came alive and reeled off 12 straight points to get the lead inside 10. Brown made a layup and a three-pointer and McBride added a three. Frazier's two free throws cut the lead to 53-44 with 9:46 left.
But Ohio State answered in championship-caliber fashion. Foster dumped the ball down to a wide open Dials for a jam. Dials tallied again on a short bank shot and, after a second consecutive McBride miss, Foster drilled a three from the right corner to make it 60-44 with 7:31 left.
After Brown made a driving layup for Illinois, the OSU run continued as Butler completed a three-point play with 6:48 left and Dials tallied on a layup with 6:05 remaining, putting OSU ahead 65-46.
Illinois rallied to cut the lead to 65-53 after Warren Carter made a jam in transition with 2:15 left. But the Illini could get no closer. Butler made a driving layup with 55 seconds left and Sylvester followed with two free throws with 35.9 seconds left to put it away.
* Illinois, which dropped a 66-65 decision at Penn State last Saturday, lost consecutive games for the first time since January 2004, when Purdue and Northwestern defeated the Illini.
* Dials notched his second double-double of the season and the 12th of his career.
"I felt like Terence had great presence about him today," Matta said. "He was quick to the ball. He is finding his position more fluidly around the floor. He positioned himself well to rebound the ball."
* In seven career games against Illinois, Dials has averaged 14 points and 7.3 rebounds.
"Maybe the way they play defense, it gives me a lot of opportunities to score," Dials said. "I get more chances to go one-on-one around the basket."
* Foster struggled through the first portion of the Big Ten schedule. But he has flourished in the four-game stretch beginning with the Jan. 30 win over Florida A&M.
Over that four-game stretch, Foster has averaged 19.5 points per game and shot 77.8 percent (21 of 27) from behind the three-point arc. At one point in this stretch, Foster made 17 of 18 consecutive three-point tries.
* OSU last defeated two ranked teams in the same week in February 2001 when it beat Iowa and Wisconsin in the same week.
* The Buckeyes are now 3-2 against ranked teams this season and 5-6 against ranked teams in two years under Matta. In his six-year head coaching career, Matta's teams are 14-15 against ranked competition.
* Matta's teams are now a combined 36-10 playing as a ranked team, including 11-3 this season.
* Matta's record as a head coach in February is now 32-7.
* The Buckeyes are now 28-3 overall at home under Matta. In his six-year head coaching career, Matta's teams are now 81-9 on their home court.
* OSU is now 104-23 in eight seasons at VCA, including 13-1 this season and 44-17 in Big Ten play. That record also includes a 17-8 mark against ranked teams and 17-5 against Big Ten ranked teams.
* The sellout was the second of the year at VCA. OSU also had 18,500 for the Michigan State game Jan. 15.
The Buckeyes are now 24-7 at VCA when it is sold out, including 20-5 in Big Ten games.
* OSU assistant coach Dan Peters missed the game. Matta said he was snowed in at the Philadelphia airport, presumably on a recruiting trip.
"Coach Peters couldn't be here today," Matta said. "He always says it's neat to come out and see people sitting up in Section 232, or whatever it is. I called him after the game and told him they were sitting up there today.
"He was snowed in at Philadelphia. What I understand, he had tennis rackets tied to his shoes and was trying to get here today."
* Ohio State visits Wisconsin at 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN-Plus). OSU took a 77-67 win over then-No. 15 Wisconsin on Jan. 18.
The loss to OSU started a string where the Badgers lost five of six games. But UW has snapped out of it with wins at home over Indiana (72-54) and at Penn State (82-62).
OSU is 5-2 on the road overall and 3-2 away from home in Big Ten play this year.
"Now we have a tough road game at Wisconsin," Dials said. "They rarely lose at home. We know it will be a tough test for us to go out there and get a win."