Ohio State hoped its first Big Ten road game at No. 11 Illinois on Saturday would provide the opportunity needed to prove it is among the conference’s elite yet again.
The No. 8 Buckeyes instead left with a 74-55 loss to the Illini – their third loss in three games against ranked opponents this season – and the harsh reality check that preseason prognosticators who picked them to finish third in Big Ten may have been on to something.
Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State (11-3, 1-2 Big Ten) with 24 points and Aaron Craft was the only other Buckeye to score in double figures with 11. The Buckeyes shot 33.3 percent from the floor as a team, and the recurring question regarding where Ohio State will find consistent scoring surfaced yet again.
Brandon Paul led Illinois (14-2, 1-1) with 19 points, but the Illini had plenty three other scorers reach double figures in Nnanna Egwu (career-high 16), Tracy Abrams (13) and Joseph Bertrand (12).
Illinois darted out to a 37-25 halftime lead after converting on 50.0 percent of their field goals (17-for-34) in the first half, many of the shots coming in the form of easy buckets in transition off of carless plays by Ohio State with the basketball.
A team that averaged only 10.3 turnovers coming into the game, the Buckeyes turned it over 11 times in the first half that led to 16 points for the Illini off turnovers. The Buckeyes finished the game with 16 turnovers.
Illinois turned a comfortable halftime lead into an insurmountable one by scoring 19 of the first 25 points in the second half. A three-pointer by Abrams from far beyond NBA range extended the Illini’s lead to 56-31 with 10:43 remaining to set a 25-point advantage, the largest of the game for Illinois.
Ohio State’s leading scorer averaging just less than 20 points per game, Thomas caught fire from there by scoring 13 of Ohio State’s next 15 points during a 15-7 run to bring the Buckeyes back within 13 with 6:13 remaining in the game. OSU wouldn’t get closer for the remainder of the contest.
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