The Big Ten only had one game on Thursday night, but it was a good one between Illinois and Ohio State in Columbus. It looked like the Buckeyes were in control until the final minutes, when the Illini escaped with a surprising road win.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Day:
-Illinois Fighting Illini 63, Ohio State Buckeyes 56
Heading into this one, I was actually surprised about how many viewed this nationally. The Buckeyes were perceived as solid favorites and expected to come out with an easy win. And while Ohio State had looked solid in its most recent games, it seemed like many were underestimating what the Illini had been doing recently as well.
And that generally ended up holding true on the court. Illinois and Ohio State battled for the duration of the evening. Ohio State would jump ahead and Illinois would respond. But in the final minutes, Illinois got some great play from Ayo Dosunmu and was able to escape with a 63-56 road win over the Buckeyes.
For Illinois, it’s hard not to be excited about where this team and program are heading. The Illini have now won four straight, five of the team’s last six games, and six of its last nine games. Illinois is now 6-8 in Big Ten play, which is pretty impressive considering that the Big Ten is widely regarded as the nation’s best league this year.
There’s still a long way to go for Illinois to transition from a February surprise into a legitimate Big Ten contender, but it really feels like Brad Underwood has figured things out. Not only has the team started to compile wins, but it’s advanced stats profile has also improved considerably. The Illini are now 64th nationally on KenPom, which is miles ahead of its low of 113th earlier this season.
And it’s also important to reiterate how well Illinois has played of late. In fact, since beating Minnesota on January 16th, Illinois has actually been the 30th most efficient team in the country according to TRank. That might not sound otherworldly, but that’s nearly a month of conference play in the Big Ten and the Illini are playing like a solid NCAA team. Fans will hope that it continues on Monday on the road against Wisconsin.
For Ohio State, this is going to be a tough loss to stomach moving forward. Losing to Illinois is one thing, but doing it at home is another. This is a game the Buckeyes needed to find a way to win and they ended up falling short. And with Michigan State on the road on Sunday, things could get even rougher in the days ahead.