Ohio State, looking to bounce back after losing to Michigan on Tuesday for the first time in eleven years on their home floor, lead/trail Illinois, 23-20, at the half in Champaign. The Buckeyes, who entered the game 19-6 on the season and ranked 22nd in the country, are trying to avoid dipping back below .500 in Big Ten play.
Things got off to another cold shooting start for Thad Matta's squad against the Illini, who are looking to avoid losing their fifth straight at the State Farm Center. Early turnovers, a seemingly constant struggle for the team, led to an easy bucket for Rayvonte Rice and a transition three from Tracy Abrams. Aaron Craft was assertive from the opening tip, though, scoring seven of the Buckeyes' first nine points. The Illini had a one-point advantage, 10-9, just after the under-16 timeout.
Cold shooting for Ohio State, coupled with second chance opportunities for Illinois, helped Illinois rip off a 5-0 run in the next four minutes, including another three-pointer for Abrams. The struggles putting the ball in the hoop on offense and corralling rebounds on defense are the combination that plagued the Buckeyes on Tuesday, when an eight point lead evaporated in the second half against the Wolverines. Nnanna Egwu had three offensive boards in the early going.
The drought continued for the Buckeyes following the under-12 timeout, and foul trouble sent Trey McDonald and Craft to the bench on back-to-back plays. A twirling lay-in by LaQuinton Ross with 9:30 to play in the half ended the scoreless streak after seven and a half minutes. After a jumper by Kendrick Nunn answered Ross, Amadeo Della Valle hit a corner triple, the first make behind the arc for Ohio State in the game. A steal and layup from Shannon Scott cut the Illinois lead to a point, 17-16, at the under-8 timeout.
Ohio State tightened up the defense, but had more trouble taking care of the ball and getting anything to drop on the offensive end, and Illinois extended its lead on a pair of Rice free throws and an Egwu jumper, to 23-18 with three minutes remaining.
The half ended with neither team having much to call home about, as buckets were at a premium. A Scott steal led to a Sam Thompson dunk in transition, but back-to-back offensive fouls by Della Valle and Amir Williams squandered opportunities to cut the lead any further.
The result is a 23-20 halftime lead for Illinois. Craft's seven early points led Ohio State, while two makes from three gave Abrams six to lead the Illini.