Something has to give tonight at Value City Arena, as both Ohio State and Illinois enter tonight’s contest riding three-game winning streaks. The Buckeyes will be trying to sweep the regular season series with the Fighting Illini after beating Illinois 77-67 in Chicago on December 5th. Ohio State and Illinois will tip off from Columbus at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Ohio State failed to score more than 60 points in a game for just the second time this year, but the Buckeyes did just enough on Sunday afternoon to win for the second straight year in Bloomington, downing Indiana 55-52. The Buckeyes were in control for almost the whole game, but a 14-2 Indiana run gave the Hoosiers their first lead of the game at 52-49 with 1:46 to play. Chris Holtmann’s squad was able to regroup, scoring the final six points of the game, with Andre Wesson’s dunk with 20 seconds to go giving the Buckeyes the lead for good.
Andre Wesson finished the game with a team-high 15 points. The junior forward has now scored 15 points in back-to-back games, and has scored at least 10 points in four of the last six games. Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson were the only other Buckeyes to reach double figures in the scoring column, with both registering 10 points. Jackson scored his 900th point at Ohio State when he hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 52 with 1:11 left.
Ohio State now turns their attention to an Illinois team they have already beaten once this year. The Buckeyes defeated Illinois 77-67 at the United Center on December 5th. Ohio State trailed the Fighting Illini 38-34 at half, but the Buckeyes righted the ship in the second half to earn their second Big Ten victory of the season.
Keyshawn Woods came off the bench for Ohio State and scored a team-high 18 points in the victory. The scoring output by Woods against the Fighting Illini was the second-highest for the Wake Forest transfer since donning an Ohio State uniform. The only game where Woods scored more points came earlier in the season against Creighton when he scored 19 points.
Musa Jallow was also a force off the bench for the Buckeyes against Illinois, as the sophomore flirted with a double-double. Jallow finished the game with 11 points and a season-high nine rebounds. Kaleb Wesson was the lone Ohio State starter in double figures in the first matchup with the Fighting Illini, with the sophomore finishing with 13 points.
After struggling for much of January, it is no coincidence that Ohio State is starting to rack up wins again as their bench is getting healthier and returning to form. Not only did the Buckeyes receive a boost last Thursday against Penn State when Kyle Young returned from injury, but Duane Washington Jr. is starting to find his stroke against. After going 1-11 on three-pointers over a four-game span, the freshman guard is 4-5 from long range over the past two games. If Ohio State could see some more consistent play from Woods, the Buckeyes have a shot at springing a couple upsets over the last month of the regular season.
The loss to Ohio State in early December dropped Illinois record to 2-7, but the Fighting Illini have been one of the hotter teams in the Big Ten of late, winning their last three games. The latest of those wins came on Saturday in overtime against Rutgers. In a game that didn’t see a lead of more than seven points, Illinois took control in overtime to down the Scarlet Knights.
Freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili was the star for Illinois in the win over Rutgers, finishing with a career-high 35 points. Bezhanishvili is Illinois’ third-leading scorer this season with 12.2 points per game, while Trent Frazier, who scored 17 points in the win over the Scarlet Knights, is leading the Fighting Illini with 14.7 points per game. Ayo Dosunmu sits between Frazier and Bezhanishvili in the scoring column, averaging 14.1 points per game.
Not only did Bezhanishvili take home Big Ten Player of the Week honors for his performance against Michigan State and Rutgers last week, but guard Ayo Dosunmu was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Dosunmu scored 24 points in the upset of Michigan State last week, and followed that performance up with 12 points, six assists, and five rebounds against Rutgers.
Ohio State will travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State on Sunday afternoon, but the Buckeyes can’t look past tonight’s matchup against Illinois. Not only did the Fighting Illini defeat Michigan State last week, but Illinois also holds wins over Maryland and Nebraska in the last month.
In their last meeting with Ohio State, Illinois gave the Buckeyes fits in the first half, but Ohio State took the lead for good with just over 13 minutes to play. Trent Frazier and Kipper Nichols both scored 18 points for the Fighting Illini, but the duo didn’t get much help, as they were the only two Illinois players to reach double figures in scoring. Illinois was done in by a 15-2 Ohio State run in the second half which gave the Buckeyes the lead for good.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 85.9%
If this matchup had been scheduled for a month ago it would have been looked at as a dud, but now there is plenty of intrigue in this battle since both teams are coming in to tonight’s game on three-game winning streaks. Illinois will look to continue to be a thorn in the side of NCAA Tournament caliber teams, while Ohio State will try to put last month’s five-game losing streak further in their rearview mirror.
The Fighting Illini won’t be an easy out though, as Brad Underwood has his young squad playing well. After a tough start to the season, Illinois is starting to come together, creating some hope for the future. While the Fighting Illini certainly aren’t threatening for an NCAA Tournament, they don’t have anything to lose the rest of the season, and are playing loose basketball.
One thing that would be nice to see from Ohio State tonight is a bit of a killer instinct. Against both Penn State and Indiana, the Buckeyes had their opponents on the ropes but couldn’t put them away early, and instead needed some late game heroics to seal the victories. Ohio State won’t be able to do this and survive against a number of Big Ten foes the rest of the year, as well as teams they might meet in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately it’s hard to see Ohio State posting a dominating blowout win tonight. Illinois won’t be able to extend their winning streak to four games, but they certainly won’t go down without a fight. Ohio State will be able to create a little more momentum before hitting the road for a huge matchup with Michigan State on Sunday afternoon, but the Fighting Illini will put forth a spirited effort tonight.