Thursday night's contest at Value City Arena may not have been pretty, but it was exactly what Ohio State needed.
The Ohio State men's basketball team was able to find enough offense tonight and defeat the Illinois Fighting Illini, 62-55, to snap a previous four-game losing streak.
Both teams came into the game on four-game skids and both teams opened up the night as cold as the Ohio wind. The Buckeyes and Illini combined to shoot 2-11 in an early dog fight.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta appeared to have gotten in Amir Williams' ear once again, because the 6'11 center came out much more active on the glass and on the defensive end. Williams finished the game with a much needed nine rebounds and three blocks.
In a first half filled with bricks, Joseph Bertrand was a small glimpse of light for the Illini. Bertrand's 10 first half points kept Illinois in the game, including a ridiculous fadeaway three pointer with the shot clock running down
Freshman guard Jaylon Tate capped the first half with a couple dime passes that gave Illinois a 23-21 lead at halftime.
The second half was a stark contrast to the ugly opening stanza where Ohio State shot just 29 percent from the field. The defense led to offense in the second half of play. One of Aaron Craft's two steals for the game led to a run out finish for the senior point guard. Craft nearly had a second fast break finish but Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice made an incredible play to block Craft's attempt before it hit the backboard.
Unfortunately for the Illini, Rice's contributions ended there. The junior guard from Champaign came into Thursday night fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.1 points per game. It is unknown if Rice was struggling with injuries or not, but this performance is one that he certainly will want to forget. Rice finished the game with a goose egg in the scoring column on 0-8 shooting, including 0-3 from downtown and four personal fouls.
After Craft ignited the Buckeyes with his active hands on defense, they went on a 9-0 run that was highlighted by a Sam Thompson triple from the left wing. Ohio State went from being down 34-31 to leading the Fighting Illini by six, 40-34.
Senior guard Joseph Bertrand seemed determined to snap his team's losing streak with a plethora of tough shots. For a second time in the game Bertrand bailed Illinois out with a contested three pointer after the basketball was fumbled around near the half court line for most of the shot clock.
After a Tracy Abrams drive to the hoop tied the game at 46 with 6:10 to play, Ohio State junior forward LaQuinton Ross began to take over.
Ross gave Ohio State the lead with a long three-ball and drove to the rim late for a strong finish and a three-point play.
The difference in the game ultimately was the emergence of Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith Jr. from a prolonged slump in league play. Smith shot the ball with confidence, making 4-8 from three-point range and finishing with 16 points. Smith joined LaQuinton Ross (18) and Aaron Craft (11) as Buckeyes to score in double figures.
The Buckeyes were also able to take care of the basketball. Ohio State only gave the ball up 12 times and they forced 15 Illini turnovers.
Illinois' Nnanna Egwu contributed 10 points and nine rebounds in a losing effort.
|SMITH JR.,LENZELLE *||16||1||1||5||3||1||5||11||2||2||4||8||35||13|