Rapid Reaction: Ohio State 73, Illinois 68

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It’s the return of the sad Illini face, boys and girls.

The Illinois Fighting Illini suffered their first home loss of the season on Saturday, taken down by the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes 73-68.

Dubious officiating, unfortunate bounces and, most importantly of all, terrible shooting plagued the Illini all game and ultimately led to their demise.

bruce weber-upset

“We just started playing a little bit tentative,” Mike Tisdale said. “They started making cuts and plays.”

Playing tentative was certainly a problem for the Illini but they had other issues as well.

Shooting just 23 percent from three point range despite coming in the third best in the country at long range shooting was the Illini’s biggest undoing. 4 of 17 from distance just won’t get things done against most opponents, let alone the top-ranked team in the country.

What’s more for the Illini is their percentages were exactly flipped — not only did they shoot terribly from long range, but they gave up almost 47% from long range to Ohio State, as the Buckeyes hit on 7-of-15 from three point range.

The Illini tend to be one of the best in the country in three point defense, allowing their opponents to hit on less than 29 percent from long range. ( coming into the game)

Still, the Illini led 50-42 in the second half with 11:59 left. Somehow, things fell apart from there, and a lot of credit has to go to the Buckeyes and their head coach Thad Matta.

“In the second half we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be early on,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “These guys kept their composure and really made some plays. That was a big part of being able to come back in this building.”

Fabulous freshman Jared Sullinger had an amazing game with 27 points and 16 rebounds. Although the Illini looked as though they were keeping Sullinger in check a lot of the game, constantly sending him to the line didn’t work as a method of keeping him in check — Sullinger hit on 13 of his 15 free throws, with many of them hitting every part of the rim before falling through.

For his part, Sullinger felt that he got a hold of the Illini defense as the game went on.

“It was kind of like a semi-double, like if I went to the middle the other big came over,” Sullinger said. “I settled down on one side and was able to do what I usually do.”

His free throw shooting down the stretch was a big part of the come back, but Sullinger had different thoughts about why the Buckeyes rallied.

“Pride, heart and composure,” Sullinger said. “We really showed a lot of composure. Pride was Jon (Diebler) tipping the ball at the end of the game and me getting the time out. Heart…this whole team just shows a lot of heart.”

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber inadvertently summed up the entire game quite well while talking about why Ohio State was undefeated.

“Good teams find a way to win,” Weber said. “That’s why they’re 20-0 and we’re 14-6. That’s what the difference is.”

Paul Schmidt is a senior contributor and media relations director for the Sports Bank, and is entering his tenth year of writing about sports in Chicago and Illinois. You can reach him via email here.

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