One of the youngest teams in the country is certainly prone to streaky stretches of basketball. Sunday night's lone Big Ten contest was no exception.
Coming off the heels of a conference play opening win over Minnesota, Thad Matta's Buckeyes looked opportunistically at former OSU assistant John Groce's injury ravaged Illinois Fighting Illini. But the Illini had other plans.
Despite Ohio State leading by double digits and near double digits at several different junctures at the game, a plucky Illini side were game throughout much of the evening to keep clawing back and making things interesting.
Even with Illinois never waving the white flag, the Buckeyes answered each counter blow with a new strike of their own. And after 40 minutes of hard fought basketball, behind a career night by Marc Loving, came away battle tested before their toughest challenge of the New Year, a road trip to face a suddenly solid Northwestern team.
3 things to know
1. KBD doesn't have to carry the burden by his lonesome. Though Keita Bates-Diop once again factored in as one of the Buckeyes key offensive players, he got help from a few semi-unexpected sources. Kam Williams got hot and added a couple three pointers and despite some early mental mistakes/foul trouble, JaQuan Lyle reached double digits in scoring as well. And that's to say nothing of Marc Loving's heroic offensive output (27 points, the leading scorer on either team).
If the Buckeyes can get multiple guys hot on the offensive end, they'll have a puncher's chance against the Big Ten's heavyweights. Even teams better than their first two conference foes or on always tough road trips, a stout defensively young group of Bucks will only be that much better if they're similarly competent from the offensive end.
2. Be weary of games of runs. After a slow start by both teams, the Illini and Buckeyes traded scoring runs. Even in the second half, every time it seemed like OSU was primed to put John Groce's bunch away, the Illini would invariably claw back and make things interesting.
If Ohio State continues to play into the hand of upset minded teams behind them in the standings or Big Ten standings leaders alike, they likely won't be so fortunate next time. It just takes one or two non-answered runs for things to get ugly -- and potentially in a hurry.
3. The sooner Giddens and Harris grow up, the higher the ceiling for this team. Both Ohio State's promising freshmen, the big man Daniel Giddens from Georgia and point guard A.J. Harris, showed flashes once again. But their output was a little streakier than some recent contests.
Harris ran the point successfully when JaQuan Lyle wasn't in the right mind space, but one particularly jarring stretch at the very end of the first half solidified that he's still very much an 18 year old playing a game against older and more experienced basketball players.
Giddens had a filthy block that forced a shot clock violation at once point in the contest, but also had sustained moments where he too looked his age or wasn't the impact player he's capable of being. He'd finish the evening with five swats in a game where the Buckeyes had 10.
If the pair can take the next step -- admittedly a big if -- the 2015-16 Ohio State Buckeyes will be able to go that much further.