Postgame: Illini Squander Opportunity Late To Get Revenge On Buckeyes

Champaign, Illinois-State Farm Center

Ohio State Buckeyes 68 Illinois Fighting Illini 63 OT

Basketball is a game of runs and Thursday night was no different.

Illinois blitzed Ohio State out of the gate to a quick 8-0 lead and lead by as many as 11 points early on. Then, in an all too familiar scene in this injury-riddled season, the Illini offense went ice cold. Ice cold meaning they went a total of 10:01 of game time between made field goals.

Illinois went into the half trailing 29-24 and needed a spark to get them going. Illinois switched to primarily a 2-3 zone in the second half to force the Buckeyes to shoot from the outside.

Ohio State looked like it had the game put away, leading 56-43 with 6:10 remaining. Then the Illini roared all the way back. It was Illinois ball and all square at 58 for the final possession with the shot clock turned off. Coach John Groce (with a timeout in hand) called for a clear-out for junior guard Malcolm Hill. Hill was forced into taking a contested, step-back 3 that was partially blocked and the game was headed to overtime.

In the overtime, the lack of rebounding and the inability to hit free throws really haunted the Illini. For the game, Ohio State won the rebounding category 51-34. Illinois’ lack of rebounding (and injuries to both starting big men) really hurt them in this game. It also didn’t help that Illinois shot only 18-31 (58%) from the free throw line.

In the end, the Buckeyes were too much for the Illini, in a game that was right there for the taking. Illinois showed resilience and toughness, but at the end of the day they need to start winning more games, plain and simple.

Ohio State was led by sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop (15pts, 12rebs). Bates-Diop was heavily recruited by the Illini since the 8th grade and was supposed to stay home and play at Illinois. He chose to go to Ohio State and got the last laugh in this matchup.

Illinois was led by junior guard Kendrick Nunn (24pts, 5rebs). A couple other Illini were in double figures (Jalen Coleman-Lands and Malcolm Hill) but the inability to make timely baskets really plagued the Illini.

Illinois coach John Groce was an assistant at Ohio State under Thad Matta for 5 years from 2004-2008. This was the 7th head to head matchup between the two and Matta has the upper hand 6-1, with Groce’s only victory against his former boss coming in their very first matchup.

The pressure is really mounting on Illinois head coach John Groce. The fanbase is becoming more and more restless by the game. The amount of injuries that have taken place in the last 18 months or so for Illinois basketball have been unfathomable. Illinois is currently playing without 4 of their top 7 players coming into the season due to injury or suspension. Injuries aside, the Illini just haven’t showed the progress that needs to be shown in the 4th year of a coaches tenure. If you were to ask me, I would be surprised to see Groce fired after this upcoming season. A new athletic director being hired in the next 7-10 days could change that as well as a 2017 recruiting class that hopefully will stack in the Illini’s favor. Groce’s future remains to be seen.

Up next, Illinois (10-11, 2-6 in B10) will host Wisconsin at the State Farm Center on Sunday, January 31st at 6:30pm, while Ohio State (14-8, 6-3 in B10) will welcome in the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday, January 31st at noon on CBS.

(Picture via The Daily Illini)

Andrew Ross

University of Illinois ’16

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