Before heading to West Lafayette, Ill. to take on Big Ten leaders Purdue on Wednesday night, Ohio State has one last hurdle to clear, as they’ll host Illinois today at Value City Arena. The game against the Fighting Illini will close out a four-game home stand for the Buckeyes, which has seen them defeat Nebraska and Indiana, with a loss at the buzzer to Penn State sandwiched in between.
After suffering their first Big Ten loss of the season last Thursday, Ohio State didn’t take long to get back to their winning ways, easily handling Indiana, 71-56, on Tuesday night. The Buckeyes jumped out to a nine-point lead by the first television timeout, and didn’t look back; not letting the Hoosiers within double digits the rest of the way. The victory gave Ohio State wins in Columbus over Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana in the same season for the first time since 2011.
The Buckeyes got solid contributions from all of their starters on Tuesday, with four of the five reaching double figures in the scoring column. The only starter that didn’t reach double digits was Kam Williams, but he just barely missed hitting that mark, finishing with nine points. Jae’Sean Tate paced Ohio State with 16 points, while Kaleb Wesson added 14.
After struggling with bench production lately, Ohio State received a welcome surprise with the effort they got from Micah Potter on Tuesday night. After scoring 13 points off the bench against Northwestern last month, Potter has been quiet of late, scoring just six points over the three games leading into Tuesday night’s game. Against the Hoosiers, Potter scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds. If the Buckeyes are able to get more performances from Potter off of the bench like they did against Northwestern and Indiana, Ohio State will be an even tougher out in March.
Ohio State will now turn their attention to Illinois, who has played the Buckeyes tough over the last few years. In their only meeting last season, Illinois defeated Ohio State 75-70 in Champaign, Ill. While the Buckeyes won both games against the Fighting Illini in the 2015-16 season, those meetings were decided by a combined seven points. Ohio State currently trails Illinois 71-102 in the all-time series, but at least the Buckeyes have posted a 44-41 record in Columbus.
Despite Illinois currently sitting near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, Ohio State can’t afford to be caught looking ahead to their matchup with Purdue on Wednesday night. The Fighting Illini have been playing better basketball of late, winning their last two games.
Last time out, Illinois easily defeated Rutgers 91-60 on Tuesday night. The Fighting Illini started to pull away from Rutgers in the middle of the first half, building a 41-22 lead by halftime. The second half saw more of the same, as Kipper Nichols led Illinois with 19 points, and Trent Frazier added 17 in the blowout victory. Prior to Tuesday night’s game, Illinois squeaked by Indiana 73-71 last Wednesday to earn their first conference victory of the season.
This will be new Illinois head coach Brad Underwood’s first meeting with Ohio State. After Illinois moved on from former Ohio State assistant John Groce following last season, the Fighting Illini turned to Underwood. Last season he led Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament in his only year with the school, and prior to coming to Stillwater, Underwood amassed a 89-14 record in three seasons with Stephen F. Austin, with NCAA Tournament appearances in each of his three seasons.
A lot of Illinois struggles this year can be attributed to the turnover in their roster. After reaching the quarterfinals of the NIT last year, Illinois has had to replace eight players who either graduated or transferred. The Fighting Illini have seen 48.7% of their minutes this year played by newcomers, and 39.9% of their points have come from new players. Illinois is starting to come together of late, which is why they could give Ohio State some problems today.
Numbers to know
If Ohio State defeats Illinois today, it will give Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes their 20th win of the season. Holtmann has reached 20 wins in each of his last four seasons as head coach. When Holtmann records his 20th win this year, he’ll become the third first-year Ohio State head coach to reach 20 wins, joining Gary Williams and Thad Matta.
In the win over Indiana on Tuesday night, both Andre and Kaleb Wesson were credited with an assist, giving Ohio State seven players with at least 25 assists on the season. The last time Ohio State had seven players record at least 25 assists during the year was during the 2011-12 season. C.J. Jackson leads the Buckeyes with 103 assists, while Jae’Sean Tate, Andrew Dakich, Keita Bates-Diop, and Musa Jallow are the other Buckeyes who have recorded 25 assists so far this year.
Illinois is forcing opponents into turnovers on 24.5% of their possessions this year, which is third in the NCAA. The Fighting Illini are forcing 18.5 turnovers per game, which leads the Big Ten. After forcing at least 17 turnovers in a game in just five of 35 games last year, the Fighting Illini have reached that mark in 13 games this year. On Tuesday night, Illinois forced Rutgers into 25 turnovers, marking the fourth time this year in which the Fighting Illini have forced their opponents into at least 25 turnovers in a game.
Cast of characters
It was quite a night on Tuesday for the senior, who was making his 100th start for the Buckeyes. The Pickerington product didn’t disappoint in his milestone start, scoring a team-high 16 points. Tate also grabbed six rebounds, giving him 702 for his career, making him the 14th Buckeye to record 700 career rebounds. Tate is just five points away from passing Larry Bolden for 24th on Ohio State’s all-time scoring list.
Bates-Diop continued his stellar season, scoring 13 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the victory over Indiana. The double-double was the 15th of Bates-Diop’s career, and the ninth that he has recorded this year. Ohio State is 14-1 when Bates-Diop records a double-double, with the only loss coming earlier this season in the PK80 Classic against Butler. One of Bates-Diop’s double-doubles came back in 2016 against Illinois, where he scored 15 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the 68-63 win in overtime over the Fighting Illini.
On a roster that is full of newcomers, Black is one of the few returning starters. After starting 27 of 31 games last year, Black has started every game except for one this season. The redshirt junior is leading Illinois in scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game, and is one of just two Fighting Illini players averaging double figures in scoring. The forward is also Illinois’ leading rebounder this year, as he is averaging 5.2 rebounds per game.
The future of Illinois basketball shows some promise with the ball in Frazier’s hand. After spending the first half of the season coming off of the bench, Frazier started his first game in early January against Michigan, scoring eight points. Since then Frazier has been tremendous, reaching double figures in each of the six games. The freshman’s best game came in the loss to Iowa, where he hit seven three-pointers on his way to 27 points. In Tuesday’s win over Rutgers, Frazier hit five triples and finished with 17 points.
How to watch:
Game time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
Streaming: Fox Sports GO
Know your enemy: The Champaign Room