State Farm Center
After their second half collapse against Michigan on Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio State heads to Champaign tonight to try and start a new winning streak. The Buckeyes had won four of five going into Tuesday's game against the Wolverines, but they weren't able to keep up with the hot shooting from Michigan in the second half of the 70-60 loss.
While Ohio State had looked to put a four-game losing streak in January behind them, Illinois has been really struggling since 2014 started. Illinois has gone 2-9 in the new year, with both victories coming at the expense of Penn State. The last win against Penn State came on Sunday in State College, but Illinois couldn't build off of that victory, losing in Lincoln 67-58 to Nebraska on Wednesday night, in which Illinois was only able to make two field goals in the final 6:57 of the game. Rayvonte Rice was able to find the bucket for Illinois in the game, scoring 23 points, but he was the only Illinois player that hit double figures in scoring.
These two teams have already met this season, with Ohio State earning a 62-55 victory in Columbus on January 23rd. Both teams came into that game riding four-game losing streaks, and the game was nip-and-tuck most of the way through before Ohio State was able to pull away at the end to gain the victory. LaQuinton Ross scored 18 points and Lenzelle Smith Jr his four three-pointers on his way to 16 points. Joseph Bertrand countered with 19 points for Illinois, but the Buckeyes were able to shutout leading scorer Rayvonte Rice and hold him to no points in the game.
Illinois is in a number of ways very similar to Ohio State in how their team is made up. Neither team has a lot to offer in terms of an inside game and rebounding, with Nnanna Egwu being the best that the Fighting Illini has to offer in terms of a threat down on the block. Rayvonte Rice is Illinois' LaQuinton Ross, in that he can score when he wants to but at times he can get lost out the court and it's hard to remember that he's out there. The reason that Illinois' record is where it is right now is because they don't quite have the numbers of juniors and seniors that have been playing together for awhile like the Buckeyes do. Abrams, Egwu, and Rice are all juniors but this is Rice's first year playing for Illinois after transferring, and Joseph Bertrand is a senior but he has been coming off the bench for John Groce's team the last two games.
The Buckeyes looked good early on Tuesday night, jumping out to a 10 point lead in the first half, but Michigan was able to hang around and head to the locker room at halftime only down 30-26. Michigan then used a 12-0 lead to take the lead and didn't relinquish it the rest of the way as the Wolverines snapped a nine-game losing streak in Columbus. While LaQuinton Ross had a very strong game against Michigan with 24 points, he didn't get much offensive support. The only other Buckeye that reached double digits was Lenzelle Smith Jr and his 13 points.
The major downfall for the Buckeyes against the Wolverines was their 3-20 shooting for three-point range. Ohio State was very effective inside the arc, shooting 20-32, but as we've seen before, they fell in love with the three-pointer and kept chucking up bricks. Had the Buckeyes tried to find their shot inside the arc instead of settling for three-pointers they might've had a different fate against Michigan, but the way it played out Michigan was more than happy to let Ohio State keep chucking up those wayward three-pointers.
The Buckeyes will need to show their toughness to be able to push aside a loss to their rival earlier in the week and hit the road to try and keep Tuesday's loss from snowballing into a losing streak. No road game in the Big Ten is easy, and Illinois is a team that has talent even though it hasn't shown much in Big Ten play. Ohio State will need their senior leadership to shine through as they continue their march towards the madness of March.
Numbers to Know
In their last 16 games when Ohio State has come into a game against Illinois ranked, the Buckeyes have won 14 of those contests. The two losses have come in the last two seasons in Champaign against Illinois though, so Thad Matta's team will be hoping to not have that streak extended to three straight games when visiting Champaign.
If the Buckeyes reach 66 points tonight you might be able to breathe a little bit easier. In 13 of Illinois' 14 wins this season their opponent has scored 65 or less points, and that streak actually extends to 20 of 21 if you date back to February of last season.
The Buckeyes will have to be better than the 15% they shot from three-point range against Michigan if they want to earn the victory tonight. Against Illinois in January in Columbus, Ohio State was able to hit a much more acceptable 42% against the Fighting Illini. As a bonus for the number 15, LaQuinton Ross has hit double figures in 15 of his last 16 games.
Cast of Characters
After being named Big Ten player of the week at the beginning of the week for the second time this season, Craft was pretty quiet against Michigan with only eight points, two assists, and a rebound. The Buckeyes will need Craft to forget about Tuesday night's game and return to the form he showed during Ohio State's three-game winning streak recently.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
For as much heat as he took during his shooting slump in January, Lenzelle has been on target recently from beyond the arc. Smith Jr made the only three from long range that Ohio State hit on Tuesday night, and has gone 17-42 from three-point range over his last seven games. Over those seven games Lenzelle has hit double figures in scoring in the last six.
While Rice may have been blanked in Illinois' meeting last month with Ohio State, the Buckeyes can't afford to fall asleep on Rice. Since the last game against the Buckeyes, Rice has hit for 20 or more points in three of his last five. Currently Rice is the only player in the Big Ten that is leading his team in scoring, rebounding, and steals.
The second leading scorer for Illinois has struggled mightily recently, only hitting two of his last 17 shots from the field. It seems like anytime a player is struggling offensively coming into a game with the Buckeyes, they magically find their scoring touch against Ohio State, so don't be surprised if Abrams does as well.
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