Rested Buckeyes Ready For Illini

After having played three games in less than seven days, Ohio State's players were given a day off during the weekend. Head coach Thad Matta said his team is not taking Illinois lightly; rather, the Buckeyes know what to expect from a conference foe at this point of the season. Get more on the matchup here.

With a share of a Big Ten title to be decided on senior night, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta surprised his players during the weekend.

He gave them a day off.

After playing Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan in the span of less than a week, the No. 6 Buckeyes were afforded a surprise day off Sunday. The team practiced Monday and in essence had Tuesday off as well with tipoff not scheduled until 9 p.m.

As Matta pointed out, there are not many major adjustments that can be made this late in the season.

"You get to this stage of the season, in a lot of ways you are who you are," the coach said. "We'll have seen enough of them and they'll have seen enough new of us that we'll know when something new arises."

That message was delivered to the players, and it caught Turner by surprise.

"Coach said if we don't have it now after all we did then we'll never have it," the junior said. "He said we've got to come out, work hard, get through what we need to get through and that's it."

The last time Ohio State and Illinois played, there was little for the home crowd to cheer about. With the Fighting Illini riding high on a five-game winning streak that included a home win against then-No. 5 Michigan State and a stunning road victory at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes entered the Feb. 14 contest knowing they would have their work cut out for them.

Riding a five-game winning streak of its own, OSU seized control early and never looked back en route to its most lopsided victory in the series since the 1990-91 season. Now the two teams meet again with plenty on the line for each squad.

A win for the Buckeyes would guarantee them a share of a Big Ten title, no small feat after having started conference play with a 1-3 record. A win for the Illini would both help solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament and clinch a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament.

One of the biggest keys to OSU's win was the fact that Illinois suffered through one of its worst shooting performances of the season. The Illini connected on 34.3 percent (23 for 67) of their shots, a season-worst until they went 23 for 72 (31.9 percent) in a 62-60 home loss to Minnesota the last time they took to the court.

Illinois also tied its second-worst effort from behind the three-point arc, going 4 for 24 (16.7 percent).

One day before the game, OSU junior guard Evan Turner said it is realistic to expect the Illini to again struggle from the field.

"That was our defense, so if we play our defense the way we're supposed to then yes I do (expect it)," he said.

Looking back on it, Matta said he liked his team's movement and flow on the defensive end.

For the season, Illinois sits fourth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage at 45.4 percent. The Buckeyes lead that category at 49.5 percent.

"They had some decent looks that didn't go down, but that's all part of basketball," Matta said. "We've got to make sure we're there on the catch and that we challenge as much as we can."

That involves OSU stepping up its play on the defensive end. Turner said he feels the Buckeyes have been lacking as of late from a defensive standpoint.

"We all know we're not playing our best basketball as of late," the junior said. "We focus on trying to get back on our defense because our defense really ties into our offense. If we play great defense we play great offense."

The Buckeyes sit fifth in the Big Ten in field-goal defense both in conference play and for the entire season but are allowing conference teams to hit 42.4 percent of their shots. For the season, OSU's opponents are shooting 40.9 percent.

Three of the last four opponents the Buckeyes have faced have shot better than OSU's defensive average for the season. For that, Turner said the Buckeyes have no one to blame but themselves.

"I just don't think we drew the line a couple times," he said. "We tried to get stops. A lot of teams stuck in there with us basically because of our own wrongdoings. We might have turned our head here or there or not been vocal enough or our intensity might not have been there. We definitely need to get it back in against a really good offensive team like Illinois."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories