Buckeyes Bow At Home To Illinois

Ohio State stayed close to Illinois through much of the game Sunday at Value City Arena, but the Buckeyes could never quite grasp control and wound up on the wrong end of a 70-68 decision.

Ohio State's once-solid NCAA Tournament résumé took another hit Feb. 22 when the Buckeyes dropped a 70-68 decision at home to Illinois.

OSU dropped its third consecutive game and watched its overall record slip to 17-8. The Buckeyes also lost for the fifth time in the last nine Big Ten contests and fell into the second division of the conference standings at 7-7.

"The teams we face are playing really well right now," OSU head coach Thad Matta said after the game. "We're reacting to everything and not attacking. We just weren't good enough to get the job done today."

Illinois (21-7, 10-5) bounced back well from a pitiful home loss just three days earlier, a 38-33 defeat against Penn State during which the Illini shot only 30.0 percent from the field. Against the Buckeyes, Bruce Weber's team found the range early and often, connecting on 14 of 25 shots in the first half for 56.0 percent and finishing 28 for 48, good for a sizzling 58.3 percent.

"We couldn't make a shot (against Penn State) and today we started 8 of 9, so that gave us some positive momentum right away," Weber said. "The big thing is that we were knocked down (but the loss to the Nittany Lions) and we got back up. You have to do that to be successful."

The Illini were especially lethal during crunch time against the Buckeyes, hitting six of their last eight attempts from three-point range. UI was 9 for 17 (52.9 percent) from behind the arc for the game.

While the visitors were scorching the Value City Arena nets, Ohio State was a chilly 33.3 percent (9 for 27) from the floor in the first half, including an 0-for-5 performance from leading scorer Evan Turner.

The OSU sophomore turned things around in the second half, however, scoring 15 of his 17 points and hitting six of his 10 shots from the field. As a team, the Buckeyes shot 61.5 percent in the second half (16 for 26).

But Ohio State was often times its own worst enemy, falling into big holes and then making comebacks that fell just short. Illinois jumped out to an early seven-point lead at 11-4 less than 3½ minutes into the game, and that advantage grew to eight points at 22-14 with 8:26 left until the break.

But the Buckeyes came back with a 10-2 run to tie the score at 24 at the 3:10 mark. The Illini then finished off the first half by scoring eight of the final 11 points for a 32-27 advantage at halftime.

OSU sophomore Jon Diebler canned a three-pointer to open the second half, pulling the Buckeyes within two points but that was as close as they ever got. Illinois used methodical offense – running the shot clock into single digits on most possessions – along with deadly outside shooting to keep Ohio State at bay.

"If you've followed us all year, that's what we are – deliberate and patient on offense," Weber said. "We knew that (Ohio State) would lose us if we kept moving the ball around the perimeter, and that's pretty much what happened."

The Illini threatened to blow things open on several occasions in the second half only to have the Buckeyes make a run. They cut their deficit to two points on six different occasions in the second half but could never quite catch up. OSU never led in the game.

"It seemed like every time we came up with a big score to cut the lead down, they would come right back down and answer," Turner said. "They hit some shots that we defended well and (they also) managed to put back a lot of missed shots. You have to give them credit for stepping up and making the shots they needed to win."

Illinois was led by forward Mike Davis, who consistently found success in the seam of Ohio State's zone defense. Davis hit 11 of 14 shots, most of them from the 10-12 foot range, and finished with a game-high 22 points.

The Illini also got 17 points from guard Trent Meacham, who was held scoreless when his team rolled over the Buckeyes on Jan. 20 by a 67-49 score in Champaign. Fellow guard Demetri McCamey, a high school teammate of Turner at Chicago St. Joseph's, added 15 points and a team-high seven assists. Meacham and McCamey combined to hit 7 of 14 attempts from three-point territory.

Diebler tied Turner for team-high scoring honors with 17 points while freshman William Buford chipped in 14. Junior point guard P.J. Hill also had a nice game, scoring nine points, grabbing four rebounds and passing out four assists.

The Buckeyes don't have much time to get things turned around. Penn State invades Value City Arena on Tuesday night for a 7 p.m. tip. ESPN is scheduled to televise the action.

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