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No. 17 Ohio State hangs on in back-and-forth game against Illinois, 75-67

It wasn’t pretty, but the basketball Buckeyes found a way to pick up their 20th win of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t look good in the early going for the No. 17 Ohio State Buckeyes (20-5, 11-1) but in the end, they got the win against the Illinois Fighting Illini (15-12, 2-9), 75-67.

The Buckeyes trailed by as many as 15 points, but behind a scoring run sparked by Keita Bates-Diop in the first half, the Chris Holtmann coached squad picked up their 11th win in conference play, and 20th win on the campaign.

Bates-Diop had an electric first half, scoring 17 points. By the time the clock hit all zeros, KBD ended the game with a new career-high in scoring. He ended the game with 35 points and 13 rebounds. After today’s performance, the forward now has tallied 10 double-doubles on the season—and 16 for his career. Additionally, the Normal, Ill. native passed Carter Scott and Scoonie Penn on OSU’s all-time scoring list.

Even though Bates-Diop led the charge, Jae’Sean Tate followed second in scoring for OSU on the afternoon, scoring 11 points against the Illini.

Not to be lost in the shuffle, there was another double-double effort by a Buckeye. Freshman Kaleb Wesson put up 10 points and 10 boards to claim his first double-double.

Turnovers were a constant theme in the game. Illinois committed 11 of them, while Ohio State committed 15 dastardly TOs. Even though the visiting side led the points off turnover margin (16-10), the Buckeyes made up for it by out scoring the Illini 38-16 on paint points.

Here’s how this one went down:

In his first career start, Andre Wesson— due to Kam Williamsindefinite suspension— got off on the right track by slamming home a dunk to give the Buckeyes the opening basket. A good start for the Scarlet and Gray was met by the Illini answering back with a run; a 6-0 run behind two three-pointers from Michael Finke and Mark Alstork was how the Illini charged out to an early 8-4 lead with 17:52 left in the half.

Bates-Diop broke up the run with a jumper, followed up by Tate nailing a three of his own. On Illinois’ next possession, Leron Black made a rebuttal three, bringing the score to an 11-9 advantage to the visitors at the first media timeout.

Illinois was aggressive on the floor early, but quickly had two fouls to show for it; Ohio State on the other hand, went the first six minutes without committing an infraction. Staying out of foul trouble was mashed with a 2-minute scoring drought (as well as three turnovers in the same stretch).

Adding to the game was, well, the ability for the game to not happen. The shot clock malfunctioned, and caused a brief stoppage of play on the floor. A little break helped the Illini’s offensive efforts, as they bagged a couple of makes from Mark Alstork. Chris Holtmann burned a timeout to reset his team, as Ohio State trailed 21-13 with 12:30 remaining. Going into the timeout, Illinois had made four of their last five shots, and pushed out to their largest lead (8) of the game at this point.

Coming out of the timeout, Illinois continued to put points on the board. Five more unanswered points by the team from Champaign, Ill., cemented an 11-0 run. Alstork sparked the run, and crossed into double-digit scoring before being called to the bench with 10:51. With 9:21 left in the half, the Illini commanded a double-digit lead, 31-17.

Three-point shots weren’t falling for OSU in the first half. Bates-Diop clanked on a three, and after getting the offensive rebound, Andrew Dakich clanked a three-pointer, too. Ohio State was 1-for-7 from beyond the arc in the early going; Illinois was 4-of-7.

By the time the under-8 minute media timeout arrived with 7:04 left before halftime, both teams were struggling to get consistent scoring. The Illini were in the midst of a 3-minute scoring drought—which also included three turnovers in the same stretch of time. The Buckeyes couldn’t take advantage of the struggle, as they went over a minute and a half since their last basket, a Bates-Diop dunk at the 8:45 mark.

Play resumed with Illinois up 30-19, but things were about to shake up inside Value City Arena. Ohio State went on an 11-0 run, with Bates-Diop scoring all the points. Two free throws, a tip-in, a three-pointer and another dunk punctuated a nine-point KBD scoring drive after the media timeout. At this point, KBD was the leading scorer on the floor with 17 points.

With 5:19 left, Tate put up a layup, squaring the game at 30. That would be the score as the under-4 minute media timeout arrived with 3:30 remaining in the half. The Buckeyes had pulled back into the game, thanks to KBD scoring at will and the Illini going on a 6-plus minute scoring drought.

Back in action, Kaleb Wesson missed a jumper, but got the rebound and connected on a layup. It took a while, but the Buckeyes had the lead again, 32-30, with 3:12 in the half. Both teams would be without points for the next few possessions, but Wesson broke up the monotony with a couple of free throws at the :59 second mark.

At halftime, the score would be 34-30 in favor of the Buckeyes. Yes, Illinois had the same points they did at around the halfway point of the half. The Illini went the final 10:11 without a point, turned the ball over eight times on the same stretch, and missed nine straight shots, yet still only trailed by four points. Ohio State engineered the comeback behind a 21-2 run to close out the first half.

A made free throw by Bates-Diop, and a three-pointer by the Illini would start off the second half. Shortly after, a foul by Andre Wesson sent Kipper Nichols to the line, where he make both freebies. Right after that, KBD went back to his scoring ways, knocking down a two-pointer to pull the Buckeyes up 37-35, then followed that up with another slamma-jamma dunk. With that, the under-16 minute timeout arrived with the Buckeyes holding the lead, 39-35, with 15:40 left in regulation.

Unlike the first half, the Illini didn’t go for long stretches without points. Nichols dropped another three-pointer into the basket and Black connected on a layup to counteract five KBD free throws that were made over the course of a couple of minutes. OSU still had the lead though, 45-42, with less than eight minutes off of the clock.

As Ohio State pulled up to a six-point lead, 50-44, with 10:22 left, the Illini got a boost via two critical three-pointers from Trent Frazier and Aaron Jordan. Shortly later, Alstork stole an inbound pass, hit a layup and got fouled. After completing the three-point play the old fashion way, the Illini recaptured the lead, 53-52. Another poked ball led to Mark Smith collecting the leather and driving it to the basket where he was fouled by KBD. He made both free throws, and pulled the visitors up 55-52 heading into an OSU timeout.

After getting back from the break, Holtmann gave the referees an earful, as Tate was called for a technical foul due to some extracurricular activities prior to the media timeout. The frustrations were compounded by the fact that Illinois was on a 9-0 run, while Ohio State committed four turnovers and scored zero points over a 2:17 period of time. Another timeout—this time the under-8 media one—arrived with the Illini up 56-52.

Tate was fouled and sent to the line, making both his free throws. On the other end, Frazier quickly answered with a two of his own—negating the free throws. Rinse and repeat on the next series of points: Kaleb Wesson making two freebies, followed by Frazier making another two-point shot.

C.J. Jackson, who had a quiet afternoon, came up big with a pair of made free throws after getting fouled by Alstork. Like the Frazier rebuttals, Alstork answered back with a jumper. Jackson, who missed his prior seven shots, made his first basket of the day to pull the Buckeyes within two, 62-60.

Alstork would make it a three-point led after splitting a pair of free throws. However, that lead quickly evaporated after KBD nailed a downtown shot to tie the game at 63-63 with 5:04 remaining.

The final media timeout at 3:50 remaining concluded with the score still tied at 63.

After getting subbed in after the timeout, Kaleb Wesson made an immediate impact: a made layup. The Buckeyes took the lead back with 3:39 left. The drama would only intensify as the Illini lost possession of the ball, leading to Alstork running into Jackson. Jackson went to the line for free shots, splitting them.

The three-point shot abandoned the Illini on the next possession, as Frazier couldn’t get the swish; on the other end, Dakich delivered a layup with KBD getting the assist. Another Frazier miss—this time a layup—led to Jackson putting in a layup. Ohio State led 70-63 with 1:41 remaining.

Jordan made a much needed Illini three to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to four. However, it was too little too late, as the Scarlet and Gray survived the scare—and now head into a showdown in West Lafayette, Ind.

Next up for the Ohio State Buckeyes are the No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers. That game is set for Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on BTN.