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Ohio State vs. Illinois 2017 final score: OSU’s comeback falls short against Illini, 75-70

JaQuan Lyle has his best game of the season in a loss to the Illini.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Following a week-and-a-half holiday hiatus, the Ohio State Men’s Basketball Team opened the Big Ten portion of their schedule by falling to the Illinois Fighting Illini 75-70 on New Year’s Day. Buckeye fans still smarting from Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl beatdown, could take a tiny bit of solace as their team mounted a furious second half comeback before ultimately falling short.

Ohio State sophomore point guard JaQuan Lyle turned in his best performance of the season, scoring 26 points on 10-18 shooting, and chipping in 5 rebounds and 3 assists in 34 minutes on the floor. The Buckeyes needed every bit of his performance to keep the game close after nearly being run out of the gym in the first half.

Again in the starting lineup, following the freak injury to freshman Micah Potter against Youngstown State, junior center Trevor Thompson made an immediate impact after winning the opening tip. In addition to finishing an impressive alley-oop from Lyle, he also had an early block, and altered a number of other Illini shots in the lane. Potter was the first man off the bench following the under-16 timeout, and didn’t wait to make his presence known, hitting a wide-open three to pull the Buckeyes within two at 12-10. That proved to be Potter’s only bucket of the contest.

Early in the game, Ohio State’s season of balanced scoring continued as five players notched points in the first 7:30 of the game. The score remained close throughout much of the first half, before Illinois extended their lead late in the first 20 minutes. The Illini were buoyed by a rebounding advantage, especially on the offensive end. With eight minutes left to play in the half, Illinois had out-rebounded the Buckeyes 15-9, including 5-1 on the offensive glass.

Just before the five-minute mark, the Illini went on a 12-2 run to take their largest lead of the game at 29-21. Senior guards Malcolm Hill and Tracy Abrams paced Illinois in the first half; Hill turned in 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists, and Abrams had 11 points and 3 boards.

All the while, Ohio State was without a point for 4:03, before Kam Williams and Lyle hit back-to-back buckets to get the score to 38-25. Coming into the game, Ohio State was shooting 48.6% from the field, good for 33rd in the country, but in the first half in Champaign, they were 13-35 for just 37.1%.

At the half, Illinois held an advantage in just about every category that matters; the Illini was leading 40-29, outshooting Ohio State by 11.5%, and out-rebounding them 25-15. While Illinois was only 3-4 from the charity stripe at the half, OSU did not attempt a free-throw in the first 20 minutes. However, their increased proficiency at the stripe showed in the second half as they went 9-11 for 81.8%. Illinois finished 17-23.

Just 3:21 into the second half, former longtime Thad Matta assistant John Groce called a timeout as the Buckeyes had closed the gap against his Illini squad. Thompson hit OSU’s first two free-throw attempts of the game, Williams hit a three, and Jae’Sean Tate hit a pair of buckets to draw the Buckeyes within seven at 45-38.

The re-energized Buckeyes continued to turn up the pressure on both ends of the court hitting six consecutive shots from the floor to get the game to one-possession at 47-44 by the second half’s under-16 timeout.

Despite committing only 4 fouls in the first half, the Buckeyes committed their sixth at the 13:10 mark in the second half, putting the Illini in the bonus for the remainder of the game. Thompson picked up his fourth foul at 11:14 in the second half and sat for a large part of the half.

At 8:34 left in regulation, Lyle hit a jumper to give the Buckeyes their first lead since halfway through the first half at 58-57. The teams traded misses for the next four minutes, until Lyle took a transition pass from Williams and hit a layup while being fouled. After missing the and-1, Illinois guard Jalen Coleman-Lands hit a pair of threes, sandwiching a Tate dunk, to give Illinois a 66-64 lead with 3:11 left in regulation. Ohio State would not be able to close the gap from there.

The Buckeyes will return to the hardwood on Thursday against No. 15 Purdue at 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN from the Value City Arena.

Three things we learned:

1. First half shows that rebounding could be an issue in the Big Ten. Coming into the game, Ohio State was averaging 39.9 rebounds per game, and Illinois was pulling in a comparable 37.5. However, the Illini held a decisive advantage in the first half, out-rebounding the Buckeyes 25-15. Fortunately for OSU, Illinois was only able to convert their 7 first-half offensive rebounds into 6 second-chance points.

Illinois finished the game with a 42-35 advantage, as Ohio State rallied and found a bit of energy and toughness in the second 20 minutes. However, as the Bucks step up in competition as the Big Ten season gets underway, this is could be a sign of bad things to come.

2. Three-point shooting doesn’t justify analytics. When Ohio State played Marshall earlier this season, I had no idea that the grizzled veteran coach Dan D’Antoni (brother to the NBA’s Mark) had such a progressive, basketball analytics mind. However, in a press conference earlier this week, he went full “Moneyball” on a member of the Thundering Heard media.

Essentially, he said that three-point shots are more valuable, despite their lower percentage, than the traditional “high percentage” baskets in the paint. In general, I agree with his surprisingly modern way of thinking, but with OSU’s dismal three-point shooting in the first hald, I’m not sure that his statistical analysis holds for this team.

Much like the rebounding stats, the Buckeyes were able to make their three-point stats look slightly more respectable after halftime. For the game, they were 7-21, for 1 point per attempt. Not good, Dan.

3. Balanced scoring hides OSU’s lack of depth. Coming into the game, Ohio State had six players averaging in double figures, tied for the most in Division I. However, that stat is slightly less impressive when you realize that Matta has shortened his rotation to just eight players, and against Illinois, Potter was only on the floor for 9 minutes, and JuCo transfer C.J. Jackson played only 6 minutes.

With the attrition of nearly the entire 2015 recruiting class, it is no surprise that the Buckeyes’ bench is a little lopsided, but attempting to compete in the rough-and-tumble B1G with just seven regular contributors is one tall order.