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The Fastbreak: 3 thoughts from Ohio State’s unkind Valentine’s Day home loss to Illinois

The Illini hadn’t won in Columbus in nearly a decade. That changed on Thursday night — and there’s quite a bit to unpack.

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

On paper, Valentine’s Day had the makings of being a good day for Ohio State athletics. It’s the day that Woody Hayes was born. So, using that loose transitive logic, Thursday should’ve been a good day for the men’s basketball team as Illinois, a squad outside the NCAA Tournament picture, came to town.


Chris Holtmann and his Ohio State Buckeyes put up 56 points—seven points less than what Illinois finished with.

Just like watching the reality show The Bachelor, there were many times that I found myself yelling at what was transpiring on the television. At other times, I was pacing around the room, trying to figure out why ill-advised shots were taken, why the lineup was the way it was, and why the Fighting Illini was able to eke out a victory on the road against the Buckeyes.

Let’s take a look at a few thoughts/observations from this game, and peek into how things will change when <gulp> Michigan State hosts OSU this weekend.

1) A collective struggle from the field

If you had a hankering for good Ohio State shooting from the floor, this was not the contest that you were looking for. The Bucks made an unimpressive 36 percent from the field, making just 17 shots on 47 attempts. From three-point range, things were much worse; C.J. Jackson and Kaleb Wesson made one three apiece, and were the only ones to hit shots from downtown. OSU was 2-of-13 from the land of three, and went 0-of-7 in the second half.

Jackson led the charge with 17 points, and both Wesson brothers cleared the 10-point mark — Andre had 11, and Kaleb had 10. Outside of that trio, however, points (and good shooting) were hard to come by. Luther Muhammad had two points and missed all six shots he took; Keyshawn Woods had three points after going 1-of-6; and Duane Washington Jr. had seven points going 3-of-7, the same clip that Kaleb had.

Illinois made 44 percent of their shots (24/54), including a huge three from, practically, the parking lot in order to seal the game. Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu did damage against the Buckeyes, scoring 15 apiece.

This was an example of when things go bad, they go really, really bad. Michigan State has Cassius Winston and Nick Ward as their star scorers. Whatever funk Muhammad and Woods suffered against the Illini, they’ll need to shake it off before Sunday. For an OSU upset, they’ll need everyone to play well down the stretch.

2) Who sees the floor is important

I’m not going to get into the whole Kaleb Wesson/foul trouble angle — I’ve talked enough about that in previous editions. Entering Thursday, he was leading the team in points (14.7) and rebounds (6.4) per game. He fouled out with a little more than two minutes left in regulation against Illinois, and from there, OSU went cold.

While Jackson and the Wesson brothers had double-digit scoring outputs, there wasn’t a consist shooter down the stretch. When Evan Turner, D’Angelo Russell, Deshaun Thomas and Mike Conley were donning the Scarlet and Gray, everybody in the arena (as well as the folks at home) had a good inkling that those guys were gonna get the ball with the game on the line. With this OSU team — granted, it’s a rebuilding season — it’s hard to figure out who’s gonna be the go-to. In fact, it’s a small mystery at figuring out who’s going to be on the floor at any given time.

Should there be criticism toward Holtmann at how he handled personnel? I don’t think so. Again, this was a really weird night. But, going forward, should there be some experimenting? Certainly. Here’s a good tweet from our own Patrick Mayhorn:

Jaedon LeDee saw zero minutes on the floor, and Washington Jr. saw 23. Washington had the fourth most points on the team, but of the eight players that saw time against the Illini, he had the sixth fewest minutes. In comparison, Muhammad had six more minutes of playing time, and Woods had two more. Would playing Washington a few more minutes have made the difference? Debatable, but they couldn’t have done any worse.

Maybe we’ll see something change in the Breslin Center.

3) Word of the day: parity (n.)

If this contest proved anything, it’s that anything can happen on any day in the Big Ten. That’s a good thing, and a bad thing.

Ohio State travels to face a No. 11 Michigan State squad this Sunday. After getting upended by the Illini, anything more than a six or seven point loss to MSU is going to slide the Buckeyes closer to the bubble — if they aren’t there already. After the trip to East Lansing, Northwestern comes to the Value City Arena. That game, regardless of what happens with the Spartans, is a must-win for OSU. Lose to the Wildcats, and that’s a Quadrant 4 loss in the Bucks’ own house — and an absolute dagger to any aspirations for a No. 9 seed or higher in the NCAA Tournament.

This road is not easy for Holtmann and his crew, but knowing how close the Big Ten is in terms of parity, all of the remaining games on the schedule are a toss up.