#1 Ohio State Stays Unbeaten; Skate by Illini in Champaign

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To paraphrase Dean Martin’s timeless lyrics and apply them to college basketball: “Everybody loses a ballgame sometime, everybody gets defeated somehow.”

And on paper, it appeared Ohio State’s trip to Assembly Hall meant “that sometime was now.”

We know that OSU is the #1 team in the Big Ten (after all, they’re #1 in nation), but many experts (including ESPN’s Dan Dakich) believe Illinois to be the second best team in the conference. So it makes sense that a road game against the Illini would logically be the hardest game left on the Buckeyes’ schedule.

By Paul M. Banks
The Buckeyes also had been looking a bit vulnerable lately headed into this one, as they’ve only beaten one of their six conference opponents by more than five.

Factor in recent history being unkind to #1 teams playing at Assembly Hall. Wake Forest got absolutely routed by the Illini in 2004, and Georgia Tech suffered an overtime loss to Illinois in 1989 much like their ACC brethren. Really, it’s no wonder the ESPN College Gameday crew picked Illinois to win this morning.

But overall, none of those factors mattered.

What ended up being most decisive was the Buckeyes’ ability to effectively shut down Illini star Demetri McCamey, who was scoreless at half and finished with just 5 points (2-11 shooting), 11 below his average. But freshman Jereme Richmond scored 12 in first half and 18 in the game, partially picking up the slack for Illinois.

OSU was led once again by Freshman of the year front-runner and Wooden Award candidate Jared Sullinger, the double-double machine had 27 points and 16 rebounds on 7-15 from the floor.

The “hack-a-Jared” strategy (although solid in theory) failed miserably as Sullinger shot 13-15 from the charity stripe, way above his season average of 73%. The team itself outperformed their season FT moving average, going 89% for the game, more than 20 points above the mean for 2010-11.

“That’s after practice, I shoot 25 (free throws) after practice, and I’m pretty tired after practice, because our practices are harder than the game,” Sullinger said postgame.

OSU may have had more Jared than a Subway ad campaign today, but fellow star freshman Deshaun Thomas contributed 8 points in just 12 minutes.

Ohio State’s current 21 game winning streak is the fourth longest streak in school history, and they are also riding a an 11 game road win streak.
The Buckeyes were mired in a 50-42 deficit in the middle of the second half, but then rattled off an 11-0 run, and before you know it were up by six with six minutes to go, changing the entire scope of the game. OSU certainly had a little help from the officials, and the raucous early-rising Assembly Hall crowd certainly let the guys in stripes know it.

But perhaps the biggest disparity occurred behind the arc, where the Illini shot a very uncharacteristic 24% juxtaposed against the Buckeyes 48%.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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