The women's basketball Buckeyes learned that defending first place is much easier to do at home than on the road.
Three days after successfully hanging onto their perch alone atop the Big Ten standings with a win over Penn State, the Buckeyes traveled to Illinois on Thursday night, fell behind early and despite a comeback succumbed to the Fighting Illini by a 68-64 final score.
Ohio State trailed 8-0 and later 27-13 before closing the halftime deficit to one, 35-34.
The 19th-ranked Buckeyes (16-5, 7-3) scored the first bucket of the second half to complete a 7-0 run and take a 36-35 lead.
Two other times in the second half they would lead by one and five times the score would be tied, but the Fighting Illini (12-9, 4-6) had an answer for every Buckeye challenge.
The final time the Buckeyes tied the score came with 6:22 to go in the game. Marscilla Packer made a three to pull her team even with the hosts at 54 apiece, but Illinois' Lori Bjork answered he 27 seconds later with a trey of her own.
On a layup by Chelsea Gordon and a free throw by Bjork, the next three points went to the Illini, too, and they had their largest lead of the second half.
In the final minute, it was Bjork again who was instrumental in holding off the Buckeyes as she made scored a deuce to restore her team to a five-point lead, 66-61, with just 37 seconds remaining.
Packer followed with a three, but Bjork made things academic by burying two free throws to close out the scoring.
Those freebies completed a night that saw the home team go 14 of 20 from the charity stripe while the Buckeyes were just 5 for 6.
Jenna Smith led the victors with 20 points and 10 points. Bjork added 16 points and four assists, while Rebecca Harris (14) and Gordon (10) also scored in double figures.
Jantel Lavender paced the Buckeyes with 19 points and eight rebounds while Packer finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists. Illinois-native Brittany Johnson came off the bench to score nine for the Buckeyes while fellow reserve Andrea Walker notched eight points and eight rebounds.
The loss dropped Ohio State into a tie with Purdue for first place in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers improved to 11-10 overall and 7-3 in league play with a 56-54 win at home against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers and Boilermakers entered the night with identical conference records.
Ohio State lost its second consecutive conference road game and is 2-3 away from home in Big Ten play.