The short-handed Illini didn't win Sunday night in Columbus, but that doesn't mean they didn't impress.
Illinois showed a lot of fight in coming back from a deficit as big as 10, taking a lead and continuing to battle to the game's final second. But Ohio State emerged the victor, 75-73.
The Illini were solid defensively throughout the first half, as both teams shot poorly: Illinois shot 34.5 percent and Ohio State shot just 32 percent over the first 20 minutes. The Illini scored the first six points of the game on a pair of Jalen Coleman-Lands 3-pointers, but the Buckeyes scored the next 12 to kick off an 18-2 run that built a 10-point lead. Illinois answered with 11 straight to take a one-point lead, and the teams traded modest leads for a while until Ohio State closed the first half on a 9-5 spurt.
The Buckeyes moved their advantage out to eight in the early minutes of the second half, and it stayed around that for much of the final 20 minutes. But the Illini charged, getting three straight buckets from Michael Finke, Coleman-Lands and Malcolm Hill to make it a 59-58 game with about five and a half minutes remaining. A Finke triple from the corner gave the Illini a lead at 61-59, but it proved to be their only lead of the second half. Marc Loving scored six straight points to put Ohio State back in front by four. Jaylon Tate and JaeSean Tate traded layups before Hill and JaQuan Lyle traded free throws, and the lead grew to five on another Lyle free throw with 32 seconds left.
A Finke bucket trimmed things to three, but the Illini couldn't foul on the ensuing Buckeyes inbound and Tate dunked the ball to punish Illinois for its missed opportunity, one that became even more glaring when Coleman-Lands and Hill hit 3s in the final seven seconds, those shots sandwiched around a pair of Loving free throws.
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Both teams' defenses let up in the second half, with Ohio State shooting a sparkling 52 percent from the field and Illinois shooting 44.4 percent over the final 20 minutes. The two teams combined for 92 second-half points after totaling 56 in the first half. The Buckeyes had 14 turnovers and made just five 3s compared to the Illini's 12, but Ohio State held a massive edge in free-throw shooting, making 28 of its whopping 39 foul shots. Illinois was 9-for-11 from the stripe.
While it was a strong showing by the Illini, the absence of their two starting big men, Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black, was noticeable. Ohio State had a 42-33 rebounding advantage and blocked nine shots while Illinois blocked none.
Four different Illini players scored 14 points: Coleman-Lands, Hill, Nunn and Finke. Coleman-Lands hit four 3-pointers, and Finke scored all his points in the second half. All four guys had to put up a lot of shots to get to those point totals, though, combining to shoot 36.5 percent (19-for-52).
Loving had a career-high 27 points to lead all scorers, joined in double figures by Lyle (14 points), Keita Bates-Diop (11 points) and Kam Williams (10 points).
Illinois opened the Big Ten season at 0-2 with the loss, and games against two of the conference's best await with a Thursday trip to Michigan State and a Sunday date with Purdue.
Ohio State joined Maryland, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa as teams to start the league schedule at 2-0. The Buckeyes visit Northwestern on Wednesday and Indiana on Sunday.