Senior Night in Columbus on ESPN. CJ Walker and Kyle Young got their honors, then it was go time. The Buckeyes had another Big Ten Top 10 showdown this season. This time it was a rematch with the Illinois Fighting Illini, who were coming off of a huge win against #2 Michigan without their best player, Ayo Dosunmu. Previous reports had Dosunmu out until the Big Ten Tournament, but Dosunmu returned for this game to the surprise of many.
His return proved pivotal for the Fighting Illini, as Ohio State trailed 6-0 early, before going on a 13-4 run to lead in a back-and-forth game early on. Illinois pulled away late in the first half, but Ohio State battled back thanks to three-point shooting. Duane Washington Jr and Justin Sueing kept Ohio State in the first half while EJ Liddell struggled, and Illinois shooting nearly 65% and led 41-37 at half.
In the second half, Washington went extremely quiet, but Liddell got extremely hot, and Justice Sueing continued to be a threat offensively. Ohio State took a 4 point lead on several occasions thanks to Liddell, but he was unable to convert and-1 opportunities at the free throw lines.
Even with Illinois shooting much worse in the second half (nearly 10% worse), Ohio State’s defense had a few too miscues really late in this game that burnt them. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s offense had the chance to close out this game and failed to. Ohio State’s offense sputtered, missing their last 8 shots and giving Illinois the hard-fought win.
Now, the Buckeyes put themselves in a tough position. They went from controlling their own destiny as a potential regular season (and postseason) Big Ten champion, #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and Final Four contender to borderline #2 seed, receiving just a bye in the Big Ten Tournament instead of a double-bye due to their 4 game losing streak.
The Buckeyes are struggling, and they need to fix their issues ASAP. They have to find a rhythm before it’s too late, especially since the tournament is just over a week away. Ohio State still has an extremely strong résumé, but their chances at a #1 seed have pretty much been sealed. They’ll need to perform, and perform well in the Big Ten tournament in order to lock up a top #2 seed for NCAA Tournament, preferably one of the #2 seeds, where they’ll be seeded with the likes of Michigan or Illinois, teams that they’ve played recently and came very close.
Photo: Joshua A. Bickel