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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Illinois: Game preview and prediction

Not only is Ohio State honoring their seniors tonight, but the Buckeyes are eyeing a fourth straight win as the Big Ten regular season is in the home stretch.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State will play their final home game of the season tonight when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes will honor Andre Wesson and Danny Hummer before the game, and will try to close out the home careers of the seniors with a victory. A win tonight by Ohio State would be the fourth in a row for the Buckeyes, and inch Chris Holtmann’s squad closer to possibly earning a double-bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.


Preview

Ohio State is finding their groove at the right time. After a dreadful January, the Buckeyes have won three straight games, and eight of their last ten contests. The latest victory for Ohio State came on Sunday, when the Buckeyes defeated Michigan 77-63 to sweep the regular season series with the Wolverines. Sunday’s game looked like it would be close until the end, with the score tied at 54 and seven minutes left, but Ohio State reeled off a 10-2 run to put some distance on Michigan and secure the victory.

For the second time in the last three games, Ohio State had five players score at least 10 points, and all five starters scored in double figures for the first time since January against Nebraska. Duane Washington Jr. hit five three-pointers and tied a career-high with 20 points to lead the Buckeyes. C.J. Walker had one of his best games of the season, scoring 15 points, dishing out seven assists, and grabbing six rebounds.

Kaleb Wesson nearly notched another double-double, scoring 14 points and pulling down nine rebounds in the victory. The junior now sits 38th on Ohio State’s all-time scoring list with 1,213 career points. If Wesson scores 11 points tonight, he’ll pass John Havlicek for 37th in school history, and 16 points will put Wesson past Larry Siegfried. Wesson is also six rebounds shy of moving past William Buford’s 666 career rebounds for 17th place in school history. This year, Wesson is averaging 14 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game, both of which are team-highs.

Prior to tonight’s game, seniors Andre Wesson and Danny Hummer will be honored in a ceremony, as they will be taking the court at Value City Arena for the final time. Hummer has spent the last two years with the Buckeyes after transferring into the program from Air Force. The guard from Upper Arlington has appeared in mop-up duty in 21 games in his career, scoring 19 points. Even though Hummer doesn’t see much time on the court, he is a fan favorite when he does get his number called.

Andre Wesson has been a constant over the past two years for the Buckeyes, averaging 30 minutes per game in his junior and senior seasons. Tonight’s game will be the 126th of Wesson’s career, and the Westerville product has seen has confidence grow since the beginning of his Ohio State career. Wesson has scored 713 points and grabbed 346 rebounds in his four years in the scarlet and gray, and is coming off a 14 point performance in the win over the Wolverines on Sunday.

The Buckeyes have been without Kyle Young the past two games after the junior forward suffered a sprained ankle against Maryland. Even though Ohio State has been able to win the last two games without Young, they’ll need the Canton native in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament. Young is the ultimate glue guy, doing things that don’t get a ton of attention on the court, but are critical to the success of the Buckeyes. Young’s status for tonight’s game is unknown, as yesterday head coach Chris Holtmann said the junior is day-to-day, but there’s no question Young will give Ohio State a boost when he is healthy enough to return.

The Buckeyes will be hosting an Illinois team that is riding a four-game winning streak after losing four straight games. These two teams split their two meetings last season, with each winning on the road. Ohio State has gotten the better of the Fighting Illini lately, winning eight of the last ten meetings, but Illinois still holds a 103-73 edge over the Buckeyes all-time.

The Fighting Illini are coming off a 67-66 win over Indiana on Sunday afternoon. The game was close much of the way, with the biggest lead in the second half being a seven-point advantage for Illinois. Indiana was able to make it a one-possession game late, but the Hoosiers didn’t quite have enough to upset the Fighting Illini in Champaign. Ayo Dosunmu led the way with 17 points for Indiana, while Kofi Cockburn and Andres Feliz each added 15 points.

After spending three years at Stephen F. Austin, followed by a year at Oklahoma State, Brad Underwood was hired by Illinois to replace John Groce in March 2017. Underwood is in his third season with the school, but this year is by far Underwood’s best season in Champaign, as the Fighting Illini are on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013. The job Underwood has done with Illinois this year was impressive enough to earn him a three-year contract extension from the school earlier this week.

One of the best players in the Big Ten this year has been Ayo Dosunmu. As a freshman, Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points per, and he has only gotten better in his second year with the Fighting Illini, averaging 16.4 points per game. Illinois and Dosunmu got a scare last month when the guard was injured at the end of the 70-69 loss to Michigan State, but the knee turned out to be not as severe as it looked, and Dosunmu only missed one game. Dosunmu has gotten stronger as the season has gone on, scoring at least 16 points in each of the last six games.

Matching up with Kaleb Wesson down low will be Kofi Cockburn, who, like Wesson, is nearly averaging a double-double this year. In his first season at Illinois, Cockburn is averaging 13.6 points per game and is grabbing nine rebounds per contest. The freshman has already notched 12 double-doubles this year, including three in the last five games. Ohio State is going to have to be careful with their shots in the paint with Cockburn lurking. In Sunday’s win over Indiana, Cockburn blocked a career-high six shots.

While Ayo Dosunmu gets the headlines in the backcourt, the leadership for the Fighting Illini comes from Andres Feliz. Prior to transferring into the program last year, Feliz was a NCAA Division I first-team All-American in 2018. As his career with Illinois is winding down, Feliz has become a more consistent threat on the offensive end, scoring at least 10 points in 9 of the last 12 games. Feliz can also hold his own on the glass, as he is averaging five rebounds per game this year.

Illinois has two other guards who have been key contributors throughout the season. Alan Griffin became known for the wrong reasons earlier this year when he was suspended for two games for stepping on the chest of Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic. Despite the rough patch, Griffin is starting to find his game. Last week against Northwestern, Griffin hit six three-pointers and scored a career-high 24 points. Like Griffin, Trent Frazier is also averaging 9.2 points per game, but the junior hasn’t had as much success of late, shooting just 21-87 from the field over the last nine games.

One of the most curious cases in the Big Ten this year has been Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Last year Bezhanishvili was a force down the stretch for the Fighting Illini, scoring 35 points in an overtime win over Rutgers, and later in the season scoring 26 points in an overtime win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. It hasn’t helped that the addition of Kofi Cockburn has cut into Bezhanishvili’s minutes, but the sophomore doesn’t look like the same player this year, with his season-high in scoring being just 16 points earlier in the season against The Citadel. Bezhanishvili hasn’t reached double figures in the scoring column since scoring 10 points in a January win against Purdue.


Prediction

ESPN BPI: 79.8% Ohio State

Illinois and Ohio State have essentially punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament with their body of work so far this year, but there is still seeding for the Big Ten Tournament to decide. Currently the Fighting Illini are sitting in fourth place, which would earn them a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, but a win by Ohio State could put the Buckeyes in position to steal that spot if Ohio State can beat Michigan State on Sunday, and Iowa beats Illinois.

The key for the Buckeyes is going to be how well they shoot the basketball from long range. When Ohio State is able to make at least 10 three-pointers in a game, they are tough to beat. Just ask Maryland and Michigan. If Duane Washington Jr., Andre Wesson, and the other Buckeyes can find the range from behind the arc, it will open things up in the paint for Kaleb Wesson to operate. The more unpredictable the Buckeyes can be with their offensive sets, the better chance they’ll have to gain some ground on the Fighting Illini.

There really are no easy games in the Big Ten. Even though Ohio State won by 14 against Michigan on Sunday, the final score is no indication of how taxing that game was. Tonight’s contest feels like it could play out in similar fashion. The Buckeyes and Fighting Illini will stay close to each other for most of the game before Ohio State feeds off the energy on Senior Night to give themselves a little bit of breathing room and give Andre Wesson and Danny Hummer a win in the final home game of their college careers.

LGHL Prediction: 76-68 Ohio State