Early on it looked like it was going to be another instance of Ohio State getting blown out on the road, as Illinois jumped out to an 8-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. Early on it looked like the Buckeyes were going to have to try and survive another three-point barrage from the Fighting Illini, with Illinois hitting two three-pointers to jump out to the quick lead.
After A.J. Harris and Daniel Giddens both made their second consecutive start for the Buckeyes, Thad Matta tried to shake things up by putting in JaQuan Lyle and Trevor Thompson following a timeout with 17:20 to go in the first half. Matta's changes didn't last long, as Thompson picked up two fouls in just a couple minutes on the floor, and Lyle again struggled with turnovers.
Ohio State was able to survive the early onslaught thanks to the Fighting Illini going cold from the field. After Illinois jumped out to a 13-2 lead with 13:48 left in the first half, Ohio State finished the half with a 27-11 run to take a 29-24 lead into halftime. Illinois only made two field goals in the last 11:25 of the first half, which helped Ohio State recover from the early deficit.
With all of those misses from the field by Illinois, Ohio State did a great job at cleaning things up on the glass, only allowing the Fighting Illini to record one offensive rebound. Ohio State did the opposite, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds on their way to a 30-14 edge on the boards in the first half. Had it not been for Kendrick Nunn, who scored 11 points in the first half, the Fighting Illini might have found themselves in a bigger hole at the break.
Illinois looked to have a little life early on in the second half, but Ohio State was able to match the early points from the Fighting Illini. The Buckeyes got back-to-back three-pointers from Marc Loving and A.J. Harris to open up a 40-33 lead. Illinois again had issues hitting their field goals, which allowed the Buckeyes to stretch the lead to 56-43 with 6:34 left in the game.
The Buckeyes couldn't make the lead stick, as Illinois chipped away at the lead with a 15-2 run, capped by a Jalen Coleman-Lands three-pointer with just under a minute to go in the game. Illinois had a chance to win the game in regulation after JaQuan Lyle's missed shot, but Keita Bates-Diop blocked Malcolm Hill's three-point attempt to force overtime.
Ohio State got the early edge in overtime thanks to some big play from Keita Bates-Diop in the extra session. The sophomore from Normal, IL scored four of Ohio State's first six points in overtime to give them a lead they wouldn't give up. Illinois closed the score to 64-63 with 16 seconds to go before JaQuan Lyle calmly hit a couple free throws, and Mickey Mitchell capitalized on an Illinois turnover with a layup to put the capper on the victory for the Buckeyes.
Trevor Thompson gave the Buckeyes a strong performance of the bench, scoring 10 of his career-high 16 points in the second half and overtime. Both Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving recorded double-doubles in the victory, with Bates-Diop putting in 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, while Loving contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Guard Kendrick Nunn paced Illinois with 24 points in the game, landing just short of the season-high 28 points he scored earlier in the year against Yale. Malcolm Hill added 12 points for the Fighting Illini, extending his streak of 26 straight games scoring in double figures, which is most among active Big Ten players.
Ohio State will be back at Value City Arena on Sunday afternoon when they try and take down Maryland, who they lost to by 35 points in College Park just a couple weeks ago.
3 things we learned:
1) JaQuan Lyle's biggest enemy is JaQuan Lyle. For the second straight game JaQuan Lyle came off the bench for the Buckeyes and it looked fairly obvious that the freshman is overthinking things a little too much. A couple turnovers during his first stint on the floor didn't do any favors to the youngster's confidence. Right now Lyle is playing way too tight on the floor, and it certainly isn't helping an offense that at times has struggled to find points.
With performances like Lyle had when he posted a triple-double against Rutgers just a few weeks ago, it's tough to see the freshman struggle so much with his confidence. Thad Matta and the rest of the Buckeyes know that Lyle has the talent to be a difference maker, but right now it just isn't translating on the floor. Hopefully Lyle can work through the confidence issues he's having on the floor and regroups as the Buckeyes head into the stretch run of the Big Ten schedule.
2) The rest of the Big Ten will be in trouble when Daniel Giddens finds some offense. Even though he's just a freshman, it looks like Daniel Giddens was created in a lab to play basketball. The one thing holding Giddens back from being one of the best freshmen in the country is his lack of an offensive game. Giddens to a couple of ugly hook shots in the first half that had little chance of falling, and if it's not a dunk or layup it's hard to count on anything offensively from the big man.
If Giddens was able to be counted on to make anything outside of a few feet from the basket it's hard to imagine Trevor Thompson would be getting the minutes that he currently does. Thompson's offensive play in the second half, along with foul trouble from Giddens saw the freshman on the bench a good portion of the last 20 minutes. Right now Giddens is dominant on the defensive end, as he grabbed seven rebounds and had a block in the first half. Even with the lack of an offensive game, Giddens is still a tremendous talent, and Buckeye fans should be excited on what he could possibly turn into if he sticks around Columbus for a couple more seasons.
3) Ohio State's defense will win them a few more games. It would have been easy for Ohio State to hang their head after falling down by 11 points early. Even though their own shots weren't falling early, they still stayed strong on the defensive end, which helped them to erase claw back into the game. What was crucial for the Buckeyes is when the shots from the Fighting Illini weren't falling, Ohio State was keeping Illinois from crashing the offensive glass.
The Buckeyes already had a stellar defensive performance earlier in the week, when they held Penn State to just 46 points, but this might have been an even more impressive performance. Earlier in the month Illinois was able to hit 12 three-pointers in Columbus, but after a couple early three-pointers the Fighting Illini went cold from behind the arc. With a game on Sunday against Maryland, followed by a trip to Madison on Tuesday, the Buckeyes are going to need their defense to continue to stymie the opposition.