What a week it was in the Big Ten. With the top two teams in the conference falling last week, the top of the conference saw their first significant losses. With the first Sunday of 2016 in the books, there was only one game on the docket for the Big Ten.
Let's see how the action played out.
Game of the Night: Ohio State Buckeyes 75, Illinois Fighting Illini 73
The Ohio State Buckeyes entered Sunday's game against the Fighting Illini looking for their sixth win in a row, while the injury plagued Illini looked to get back in the winning column after last Wednesday's loss at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines.
Both teams came out with impressive defensive game plans. Ohio State made life difficult in the paint with sophomore big man Trevor Thompson and freshman Daniel Giddens patrolling the lane. The Illini struggled out of the gate getting any good looks inside, but freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands sparked his squad with back-to-back three pointers to give the Illini a quick 6-0 lead.
While the Buckeyes relied on their length inside, Illinois used a pesky perimeter defense to stymie Ohio State in the first four minutes. Freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle was forced to the pine after picking up two fouls in just under two minutes. Fellow freshman AJ Harris stepped in a showed once again he is a viable option when his number is called. With Harris at the helm, the Buckeyes stormed out to an 18-2 run after the Coleman-Lands three pointers. Junior forward Marc Loving and sophomore forward Jae'Sean Tate were the catalysts for the Buckeyes as they helped generate and maintain a close lead throughout the first half. Loving and Keita Bates-Diop led the way for Ohio State with 11 points each. The Buckeyes benefited from 13-for-15 from the free throw line which helped establish a 30-26 halftime lead.
Illinois answered with a 9-0 run led by point guard Kendrick Nunn's ability to hit from deep and get in the lane. Do-it-all forward Malcolm Hill was quiet on the offensive end in the first half with only three points, but did a stellar job on the defensive end holding Ja'Sean Tate to only two points on 1-for-4 shooting. Nunn led the way for Illinois in the first half with nine points.
It was a tale of two halves, as Ohio State stormed out to a quick 16 points, while Illinois poured in 15 in the first six minutes of the second half.
JaQuan Lyle came out on fire in the second half with a quick four points in the first minute and a half. Ohio State did a solid job initiating their offense in the early stages of the second half, as Lyle looked to attack and get others involved from the perimeter, as Illinois switched to a 2-3 zone.
Malcolm Hill stepped up his offensive intensity by attacking and getting out in fast break opportunities which forced Ja'Sean Tate to obtain his second foul before the first media timeout of the second half. Freshman forward Michael Finke propelled Illinois with two quick threes.
The offensive output from both sqauds began to die down with a plethora of fouls called on both sides. Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn picked up their third fouls. Keita Bates-Diop picked up his second and Jae'Sean Tate picked up his third all before the under-12 timeout where Ohio State held a 50-44 lead. Hill was forced to the sideline at the 9:30 mark after picking up his fourth foul when trying to prevent an alley-oop attempt.
After a run from Jaylon Tate, Maverick Morgan and Michael Finke of Illinois that cut the Ohio State lead to 52-50, sophomore guard Kam Williams sparked the Buckeyes with five quick points to push the lead to 59-51.
Jalen Coleman-Lands continued shooting in the second half and hit a big three pointer to cut the lead to 59-56. Hill came in put his offensive arsenal on display to help cut the lead to 59-58. A three pointer from Finke sparked a 10-0 run, and gave the Illini a 61-59 lead.
When the steady play of the lone upperclassman in desperate need, Marc Loving provided a pivotal slam dunk to tie the game at 61 with 3:49 left in the contest. Loving then proceeded to hit a corner three to give the Buckeyes a 64-61 lead. With a 67-65 lead, and 47.9 seconds remaining Lyle continued to build the Buckeye lead by hitting two free throws to extend the lead to 69-65. After a missed Illini three from Finke, Lyle hit one free throw to put the lead at 70-65.
A Finke put back attempt cut the lead to 70-67 with 23.2 seconds left. Ohio State broke the full court pressure giving Tate an open dunk to cut the lead to 72-67. A Coleman-Lands three with 6.6 seconds left cut the lead to 72-70. After a Malcolm Hill three pointer cut the lead to 74-73, a Marc Loving free throw made it 75-73 with 1.9 seconds remaining. Loving would miss the second free throw giving Hill an opportunity to win the game on a full court heave, but it wouldn't fall.
Loving led the way for the Buckeyes with 27 points and seven rebounds. JaQuan Lyle stepped up in the second half by finishing with 14 points, five assists and four rebounds. Keita Bates-Diop almost tallied a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. The Buckeyes made a living at the charity stripe by converting 28-39 compared to the Illini's 9-11. Kam Williams played admirably off the bench with 10 points, while Daniel Giddens tallied five blocks in a reserve role.
Illinois featured a very balanced scoring attack in the defeat. Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Michael Finke and Jalen Coleman-Lands all finished with 14 points.
Ohio State looks to continue their winning ways on Wednesday, January 6 at 9 p.m. on the Big Ten Network, as they travel to Northwestern. Illinois looks to snap out of their two game losing streak as they head to East Lansing with a tilt against the Michigan State Spartans Thursday, January 7 at 9 p.m. on ESPN.