CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Ohio State trailed by three at halftime, and
coach Thad Matta told the Buckeyes he thought they would find a way to
Turns out, he was right.
Aaron Craft scored 14 points and No. 22 Ohio State held Illinois to
28.3 percent shooting on the way to a scrappy 48-39 win on Saturday
Craft picked up two early fouls and spent two long stretches on the
bench. But he was still the Buckeyes' best option on a tough offensive
night for each team.
"It was rough -- I'm sitting on the bench. It's tough when you don't
have a say," Craft said. "My teammates did a great job, controlling the
perimeter. Guys just did a great job executing, finding ways to keep it
close and that's what we needed."
LaQuinton Ross added nine points for Ohio State (20-6, 7-6 Big Ten),
which trailed 23-20 at halftime. The Buckeyes made 38 percent of their
Matta remained confident despite the slow start, delivering a positive message at the break.
"We're down three," Matta said he told his players. "Trust me, something's gonna fall for us."
And it did.
Ross and Craft each hit a 3-pointer as Ohio State started the second half with a 10-2 run.
Tracy Abrams had 13 points for Illinois (14-12, 3-10), which has lost
10 of 11. Nnanna Egwu had a career-high 14 rebounds but fouled out
"Obviously our offense was anemic today," Illinois coach John Groce
said. "I thought Ohio State had a lot to do with that. I thought they
imposed their will on the defensive end, especially in the second half."
The Buckeyes finished with 10 steals. Shannon Scott had five and Craft had three.
"I thought the 10 steals in that type of game, that's a large number," Groce said.
Illinois scored just nine points over the first 15:35 minutes of the second half.
While each team struggled with its shooting, defense also played a key role.
The Illini paid close attention to Ross, who was averaging a
team-high 14.6 points. He had just one field goal in the second half and
was 3 for 8 from the field for the game.
Rayvonte Rice, Illinois' leading scorer with 16.8 a game coming in,
had trouble getting open for much of the night. He had seven late points
to finish with 11.
"Honestly, we were just playing him straight up," Matta said. "We didn't do anything special or strategically, just guard him."
Illinois' shooting percentage was a sickly 29 percent in the first
half. But the Illini still had the lead at the break, using their
defense and a flurry of early 3-pointers to grab the advantage.
But that poor shooting percentage kept getting lower as the game went along.
The Illini hit just one of their first nine shots in the second half,
a seven-minute stretch during which the Buckeyes grabbed a 30-25 lead.
Egwu's jumper with 12:55 to play temporarily ended Illinois' scoring drought.
But the Buckeyes eventually pulled away. Amedeo Della Valle had a
layup and Marc Loving made consecutive jump shots to put the Buckeyes up
Loving had eight points. He had gone a stretch of six games without making a field goal.
"We rode those guys," Matta said of his reserves, who gave Ohio State
17 points. "They were dog tired and I didn't care. I was leaving them
While the Buckeyes managed to find a little offense, Illinois was
missing -- jumpers and finger rolls and even a dunk attempt by Jon Ekey
that skidded harmlessly across the top of the rim.
Illinois went 8:14 without a field goal before Abrams tossed in a 3-pointer with 4:25 to play, making it 42-32.