Sophomore guard David Lighty's offensive rebound and subsequent pair of free throws with 30.3 seconds remaining helped Ohio State hold on for a 64-58 Big Ten victory Jan. 22 over Illinois.
The victory allowed the Buckeyes (13-6, 4-2) to snap a three-game losing streak and put a crimp in any plans the Illini may have in getting to postseason play. They fell to 9-11 overall and only 1-6 in conference play.
That the Buckeyes needed Lighty's heroics at the end were somewhat disappointing in light of the fact that they shot well during the game and held a 15-point advantage as late as the 6:26 mark of the second half.
Despite a cold wind that was blowing outside, OSU warmed things up inside Value City Arena, shooting 54.8 percent by making 23 of 42 shots from the field. The percentage from three-point territory was also good (8 for 18, 44.4 percent).
But after Ohio State ran out to a 15-point lead with 8:52 left in the game, Illinois chipped away at the Buckeyes until paring things down to a three-point affair at 61-58 with 32.1 seconds left. The Illini immediately called a timeout and then fouled OSU freshman Kosta Koufos.
The 7-footer played into Illinois' strategy by missing both free throws in the double bonus, but Lighty made a move on Illini defender Calvin Brock to grab the offensive rebound. Brock committed a foul, Lighty canned the free throws and Illinois never threatened again.
The offensive rebound was only the sixth of the game for the Buckeyes, who were outrebounded 33-29 by the Illini. Nevertheless, Lighty said he was not going to be denied in that situation.
"I just tried to get a little physical there," he said. "They were down only three at the time so it was a big rebound for us. I just got a rebound. It was a good play."
Lighty finished the game with a team-high 16 points and added four rebounds and four assists. Freshman guard Evan Turner added 14 points while Koufos had 12, but leading scorer Jamar Butler was held to just seven. The senior point guard grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, however.
Illinois was led by junior forward Rodney Alexander, who came off the bench to post the first double-double of his career. He poured in 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds after coming into the game with averages of 4.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Alexander's big game helped mitigate the absence of Illini starting center Shaun Pruitt. The 6-10 senior, who was his team's leading scorer and rebounder, missed the game due to what Illini head coach Bruce Weber termed a team matter.
Senior forward Brian Randle also had a double-double for the Illini with 13 points and 10 rebounds while junior guard Trent Meacham added 12 points.
"Tonight was a great lesson in momentum and how to understand the momentum of college basketball," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "We got ourselves a pretty good lead, then all of a sudden Illinois made some great plays. I don't think we played with great intelligence in some spots, but we're happy to get the win."
Despite falling behind in the second half and having to make a furious run at the end, Illinois actually had an early 3-2 lead when Meacham hit a three at the 18:01 mark of the first half. But the Buckeyes came back with an 8-2 run that included six points from Lighty.
That made it 10-5 at the 14:32 mark and OSU slowly built on that advantage until it had doubled up on the Illini at 20-10 with 6:31 remaining. The final seven points that run came on a trey from Lighty, a jumper from Turner and a monster slam from Othello Hunter off an alley-oop pass from Butler.
Alexander allowed Illinois to crawl back into things with a three-ball at the 2:45 mark to cut the deficit to four points at 25-21. But the Buckeyes pulled away again to close the first half up by 10 again at 33-23, going on another 8-2 run a Hunter layup sandwiched between three-points from Butler and Turner.
Ohio State's lead ballooned to 50-35 with 10:59 left in the second half with the Buckeyes getting threes from Turner, Lighty and senior forward Matt Terwilliger during a 17-12 run. The advantage remained at 15 after a Turner jump shot made it 55-40 with 6:26 remaining.
But from that point, Illinois began cutting into OSU's lead, scoring 12 of the game's next 14 points. That made it 57-52 with 2:37 remaining, and after a pair of free throws from Hunter 20 seconds later, the Illini scored six of the next eight points. Randle's jumper with 32.1 showing on the game clock preceded the foul on Koufos before Lighty came up with his clutch rebound and foul shots.
Ohio State takes the floor again Saturday night against Minnesota (2-3, 12-5). Game time at VCA is 8 p.m. Eastern.
Lighty's Late Play Helps Buckeyes To Victory
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