The game of the night heading into Thursday was undoubtedly Maryland vs. Iowa, but the Ohio State Buckeyes and Illinois Fighting Illini offered a very entertaining game that was not to be pushed to the backburner.
Both programs were looking to gain their second victory in a row heading into their respective weekend matchups. After a gritty overtime victory at Illinois, Ohio State will now go into their Saturday tilt against Maryland looking to build on their winning ways and make their case for the NCAA tournament. The freshmen laden Buckeyes used a career-high 16 points from sophomore Trevor Thompson. Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving led the Buckeyes with a combined 26 points to leave Champaign with a hard fought victory.
With that, let's take a look at what we learned from the game.
What We Learned:
1. Ohio State's defense was a major factor in turning the game around.
Ohio State didn't start positively as they got down 8-0 early, but used a strong effort defensively and on the glass to hold a 29-24 lead at halftime. Sophomres Jae'Sean Tate was outstanding against junior Malcolm Hill in the first half holding him to just four points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field. Kendrick Nunn stepped up in Hill's absence and led the Illini with 13 first half points.
The Buckeyes completely dominated the glass in the first half which proved useful in coming back from their early deficit and taking the four point halftime lead. Ohio State hauled in 30 rebounds to Illinois's 14 despite Trevor Thompson being riddled with two fouls.
2. The Buckeyes can be dangerous when their scoring load is balanced.
Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop are their two best offensive threats, but when Thompson, Kam Williams and others can get involved to even out the scoring output, it makes stopping the Buckeyes even harder for opposing defenses. Loving finished with 11 and Bates-Diop notched 15, while Kam Williams had seven, Jae'Sean Tate had nine and Trevor Thompson finished with 16.
3. Kendrick Nunn deserves to be in the conversation as one of the top point guards in the conference.
The junior guard was essentially the reason why this game was close through most of the game - Jalen Coleman-Lands impacted the game with six minutes remaining to help Nunn keep Illinois in the game. The Robin to Malcolm Hill's Batman, Nunn showed up when his cohorts failed to. Hill was tightly guarded all night long and everyone else struggled to make shots. The Fighting Illini struggled mightily in the second half and ended up shooting a brutal
Nunn finished with 24, while Hill tallied 12. The two headed monster of Nunn and Hill have proved to be one of the top scoring duos in the country, but if they only combine for 36 points and the majority of their teammates don't pick up the slack, wins will be hard to come by - after Coleman-Lands' 11 points, the highest scorer for Illinois was Maverick Morgan with eight points.
4. Jalen Coleman-Lands continues to make a name for himself in the Big Ten.
The freshman guard has a propensity for making critical three-pointers, and last night's game vs. Ohio State was another example of his cool, calm and collected demeanor on the court in crunch time. With 58 seconds remaining in regulation, Coleman-Lands came off a screen to hit a right wing three-pointer to tie the game at 58 which eventually sent the game into overtime. Coleman-Lands finished the game with 11 points with three three-pointers.
It was a hard fought victory for the Buckeyes which will give them a sense of confidence moving forward with the rest of the season and looking towards their NCAA tournament hopes. Freshman guard JaQuan Lyle lost his starting role two games ago, but managed to make winning plays at the end of regulation and in overtime to help put the game away for Ohio State. The Buckeyes out rebounded an injury plagued Illini squad 51-34.