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No. 11 Illinois 74, No. 8 Ohio State 55 — Final

CHAMPAIGN — Senior Brandon Paul led the way with 18 points, Nnanna Egwu added a career-high 16 and Illinois knocked off Ohio State at home Saturday in front of a sold-out Assembly Hall crowd.

The Illini (14-2, 1-1 Big Ten) never trailed in the game and led by as many as 25 points in the second half.

Deshaun Thomas scored a game-high 24 to lead the Buckeyes (11-3, 1-1 Big Ten), who got 11 from Aaron Craft.

Tracy Abrams added 13 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Illini, who got 12 points, four rebounds off the bench from Joseph Bertrand.

More later on HQ.

No. 11 ILLINOIS 74, No. 8 OHIO ST. 55
OHIO ST. (11-3)
Thomas 9-21 5-6 24, Thompson 0-5 1-2 1, Williams 1-3 0-2 2,  Craft 4-10 2-2 11, Smith, Jr. 3-9 0-0 8, Scott 1-4 0-0 2,  Ross 0-5 2-2 2, Ravenel 1-2 1-2 3, Della Valle 1-1 0-0 2,  McDonald 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-60 11-16 55.
ILLINOIS (14-2)
Griffey 1-7 0-0 2, Egwu 7-10 2-2 16, Richardson 3-11 0-0 9,  Paul 6-12 5-6 19, Abrams 5-7 1-2 13, McLaurin 0-0 0-0 0,  Bertrand 5-9 2-2 12, Henry 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 28-58 10-12 74.
Halftime—Illinois 37-25. 3-Point Goals—Ohio St. 4-19 (Smith, Jr.  2-5, Craft 1-3, Thomas 1-5, Scott 0-1, Thompson 0-2, Ross 0-3), Illinois  8-27 (Richardson 3-9, Abrams 2-2, Paul 2-6, Henry 1-2, Egwu 0-1,  Bertrand 0-1, Griffey 0-6). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Ohio St. 30  (Smith, Jr. 7), Illinois 40 (Egwu 8). Assists—Ohio St. 10 (Craft, Scott  3), Illinois 12 (Abrams 5). Total Fouls—Ohio St. 15, Illinois 15.  A—16,618.

No. 11 Illinois 56, No. 8 Ohio St. 31 — 10:33 second half

The Illinois bench and coach John Groce mauled Tyler Griffey after the senior’s hustle play in the corner saved a possession and got them a timeout.

Those are the same types of plays that Purdue made to beat the Illini on Wednesday.

D.J. has hit a pair of three-pointers. It’s the first time he’s made multiple threes since the Gonzaga game on Dec. 8.

All the loose balls are bouncing Illinois’ way so far.

The clock above the basket at the north end of Assembly Hall malfunctioned at the 16-minute mark. The game was delayed a few minutes while it was operated on.

Assembly Hall folks were working on it at halftime. They took the media timeout at 16 instead of under-16 to get it working again.

Joseph Bertrand broke down Deshaun Thomas and hit a floater over him. Joe said he can get that off on anyone. Apparently he can.

Dustin Ford told Myke Henry to be strong with the ball before the sophomore checked back into the game.

Not sure how often Aaron Craft gets called for fouls. He’s a great defender. I think reputation plays into officials not making calls against him.

If I would have told you Illinois would be 7 for 22 from behind the three-point line and leading Ohio State 56-31, would you have asked for my drugs?

Best crowd of the season. They’re fired up.

I picked Ohio State to win. My prediction record is going down the tubes.

No. 11 Illinois 37, No. 8 Ohio State 25 — Halftime

Groce was none too pleased with Scirotto calling that foul on McLaurin on the three-point attempt. It was a clean block and the call was late. Thomas missed first free throw. As Rasheed Wallace would say, ball don’t lie. Bad break for Illinois.

Joseph Bertrand’s crossover and layup was And 1 worthy. Do they still make those tapes?

“Pressure him, he can’t dribble!” is what the Illini coaches were screaming as Lenzelle Smith was handling the rock.

Illini went under another screen guarding Lenzelle Smith Jr. on a three-pointer. He missed it, they got lucky.

Joe Bertrand’s reverse alley-oop dunk will be seen again. The dude can flat get off the ground.

Illinois coaches keep telling team to move the ball.

Really like Bertrand guarding Thomas. He’s long and athletic as all get out.

Myke Henry buried a three-pointer to push the lead to 11 at the 3 and a half minute mark. That was his first triple since the Norfolk State game on Dec. 11.

Tyler Griffey and in foul trouble, means an increased workload for Henry.

D.J. Richardson made a tough three-pointer with Deshaun Thomas all over him. That’s 22 straight games with a three. He thought he got fouled, too.

Former Illinois walkon guard Jean Selus is in the crowd. Canada is rocking his lettermen’s jacket and sitting with the Paul family.

I thought Larry Scirotto and John Groce were going to trade blows there for a second near the end of the half.

The Illini shot 17 for 34 (50 percent) from the floor. They hit 3 of 15 from three (20 percent). OSU was 9 for 27 (33 percent) from the floor and 2 for 5 (40 percent) from deep.

Illinois did not shoot a free throw in the half. OSU went 5 for 9 from the stripe.

Brandon Paul and Nnanna Egwu have eight points. Abrams has seven with four assists and four boards.

Thomas and Smith each have eight for the Buckeyes.

No. 11 Illinois 21, No. 8 Ohio State 11 — 10:43 first half

Brandon Paul started on Deshaun Thomas. Lenzelle Smith Jr. started on Paul.

Sam McLaurin checked into the game two minutes in for Griffey and he moved to Thomas. It’ll take a group effort on the All-American, who’slikely in his last year at OSU.

After Egwu and Abrams gave the Illini a 5-0 lead, the place was set to erupt when Tyler Griffey fired from 3. He missed.

It’s still pretty electric in here, regardless.

The Illinois coaches went nuts when Abrams was called for a travel before the under-16 timeout. They think he was fouled. He was, but it wasn’t called.

Joseph Bertrand hit a tough pull-up jumper from about 18 feet shortly after checking in. Stephen Bardo, sitting to my left, said that’s a really tough shot to hit coming off the bench.

The first foul called on Ohio State at 14-minute mark draws a mock cheer from the sold-out crowd.

The Illini guards need to go straight to the basket on Craft and not dance around on the perimeter. That’s when he’s at his best.

Devin Langford not available for the Illini today. He’s sick.

Groce pumping crowd up after Brandon Paul’s fast-break layup. Craft had all of Bertrand’s jersey as they ran down the floor.

The fans went even more bonkers after the alley-oop to Paul from Abrams, who has four assists already.

Official Larry Scirotto all over the Illinois coaches for getting out of their seats. He’s in the huddle talking to Jamall Walker. Walker had the scout, by the way.

Lenzelle Smith drilled two early open threes. That’s near the top of the scouting report. Can’t let him get open.

No. 8 Ohio State (11-2, 1-0) at No. 11 Illinois (13-2, 0-1) — Tipoff (BTN)

Illinois’ players and coaches talked extensively yesterday about the physical practice they had Thursday following the Purdue loss. Rebounding and overall toughness was an emphasis.

“I think it’s a mindset but I think it develops within your culture, within your program over a period of time,” Groce said. “I think we’ve had it a lot. I was disappointed with the way the game ended the other night on a couple of toughness plays when we had emphasized it as much as we have. Byrd made a couple of those plays for Purdue, they were big plays that made a huge difference in how the game ended there.

“Part of it is cultural, part of it is how guys are wired, part of it is holding them to certain standards. There’s a lot of things involved in that. That’s something that we’ve obviously earmarked from Day 1. It’s something we want to be a major part in what we’re about that’s a part of our fabric, a part of our DNA. I think for the most part it has been. It’s a big reason why we’re in the situation we’re in and have had some success here early.”

Illinois will go with its usual starting lineup of Abrams, Richardson, Paul, Griffey and Egwu.

Ohio State goes with Craft, Smith, Thompson, Thomas and Williams.

Deshaun Thomas might be a little distracted. He interrupted his shooting routine a few minutes ago to smile, wave and say hello to Taylor Rooks, who covers Illinois for Scout.com.

Not much in the way of recruits expected tonight. Champaign’s Michael Finke, who scored 35 and grabbed nine boards in a win at Bloomington last night, will be here. Everyone else is playing today.

Groce and Thad Matta shared a moment before the game.

Former Illini Trent Meacham told me he’d be here today before heading back to France where he’s playing pro ball. I haven’t spotted him yet.

Lou Henson is sitting courtside in the front row across from the Illinois bench.

Lots of hugs for Illinois special assistant to the head coach Brandon Miller. He coached most of the OSU guys and worked on the staff with the coaches.

Be back midway through the half with an update.

No. 8 Ohio State (11-2, 1-0) at No. 11 Illinois (13-2, 0-1) — 30 minutes before tipoff (BTN)

They’re expecting a full house here today, which would be the first sellout of the season. The Illini will need all the help they can get in their first home game in three weeks. They haven’t played particularly well inside this building this season. But it hasn’t been for lack of fan support.

“We’re excited, I understand the game is sold out. Our venue is as good a venue as it gets. On game day it can be electric in there,” Groce said. “I get different letters and emails and different thing from people you don’t even know, I think people who support the Illini appreciate how tough our guys have been for the most part and how together they’ve been. The passion they play with, they way they’ve represented the university. Because of that, we’ve got a sellout tomorrow and that’s great.”

The Orange Krush is hosting a reunion today. More than 150 Orange Krush alumni are expected to be in attendance. They’re having a pregame shindig over at the Colonnades Club before heading over. Among the featured guests will be former Illinois coach Lou Henson and his wife Mary, who started the Krush in their living room in the 1970s. Alan Solow and Peter Korst were the students who met with the Hensons to start the group. They’ll be here, too.

One of the big questions entering this game is: Who’s going to guard Deshaun Thomas? The Big Ten’s leading scorer is a load. That question will remain a mystery until the ball tips. Loren Tate asked Groce who would draw the assignment.

“You think I’m going to tell you that, Loren?”

Game plan stuff stays under wraps.

I spoke briefly with D.J. Richardson. He seems in good spirits. I’m expecting the shooting slump to end. D.J. has kind of become the whipping boy with some fans when things don’t go well. Groce defended his senior after the Purdue game.

“I tell him to smile when he shoots,” Groce said. “I love D.J. I love D.J. because he plays for Illinois. I love D.J. because he’s a phenomenal teammate and all he cares about is winning. He’s a proven shooter over the history of his career… He guards the other team’s best perimeter player a lot. He’s one of our best communicators. He brings more to the game than just shooting. We’d all like for some of those to fall. If there’s anybody who deserves for them to fall, it’s him because he’s an unbelievable kid and I’m sure they will at some point. We’re going to encourage him to keep shooting the ball.”

No. 8 Ohio State (11-2, 1-0) at No. 11 Illinois (13-2, 0-1) — 60 minutes before tipoff (BTN)

Remember when CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb caught a lot of flack from you great Illini fans for picking against Illinois and saying they had no shot to win at Gonzaga? This morning on his Twitter account Gottlieb, the former Oklahoma State guard, said he LOVES the Illini today at home against the Buckeyes.

Perhaps he’s trying to get back on your good side?

Aaron Craft and Sam Thompson were the first Buckeyes in the floor today. The Big Ten Network’s “Journey” production crew is here today. Can’t wait for that show to fire back up.

Thompson is putting on a dunk exhibition right now. He was No. 1 on “SportsCenter” the other night for a dunk against Nebraska.

Obviously, everyone remembers the game here last year against the Buckeyes. It was, at the time, the signature game of Brandon Paul’s career as he dropped a career-high 43 on the Buckeyes. Personally, I think the Gonzaga game his year was more impressive, but last year was special.

BP shot an airball on a layup on his first shot of that Ohio State game. So, if he throws up a clunker early today, don’t fret.

“I was just confident in my game. My teammates did a good job putting me in position to score and I was hitting everything that day,” Paul said.

Paul has started to receive extra attention from defenses in recent games and that will continue to pick up over the course of the Big Ten season. The conference’s advanced scouting will be a challenge for Paul. It’s been an issue for him in the past, but he feels he’s a more mature player now as a senior.

“I can shoot good shots within the offense,” he said. “When they’re trying to take that away, I think I can do a good job of making plays for my teammates, whether that’s putting them in a situation where they’re not going to help, just getting my teammates in position to score, coming off ball screens strong and taking care of the ball.”

He’s made his new coaches happy, too.

“I think Brandon’s been really unselfish lately, even more so as people have doubled him, shaded him,” Groce said. “In practice, same thing. I think he’s really tried to move the ball and listen to what we tell him. Obviously, that opens up opportunities for other guys on the team.”

I’ll be back shortly with another update.

No. 8 Ohio State (11-2, 1-0) at No. 11 Illinois (13-2, 0-1) — 90 minutes before tipoff (BTN)

Good morning/afternoon, basketball fans and welcome to the home Big Ten opener today. Should be a good one.

Obviously there is a connection today between the head coaches. Illinois’ John Groce worked for eight years as an assistant under Thad Matta at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State. I wrote a little about their relationship today.

Speaking of relationships, congrats to Illinois director of basketball operations Mark Morris. Morris proposed to his longtime girlfriend Erin Ebelhar last night. She said yes. Mark out-kicked his coverage on this one. Good for him.

The team had dinner last night at John and Allison Groce’s home in Champaign. It’s a really close group, they love being around one another.

Allison Groce is a veteran at putting together events like last night. Just as her husband has learned so much from Thad Matta, Allison learned quite a bit from Brabara Matta.

“She was a really good model, actually, of a coach’s wife,” Allison Groce said. “When John first started working with Thad, I thought they had this huge production going on. Her family would come into town and she was really good with entertaining and always including us and the other coaches’ wives. It made us more of a family.”

Myke Henry isthe first Illini on the floor today, emerging from the tunnel at about 11:20 a.m. I believe it's the first time Myke has led the charge this season. Illinois's wearing white today.

Spent some time listening to Andy Katz’s podcast this morning and in a strange twist, Katz and his co-host Seth Greenberg had former Illinois coach Bruce Weber as their first guest and then they were immediately joined by Groce. Good stuff from both. Worth a listen.

Got some heavy hitters here on press row today. From left to right in the front row will be Stephen Bardo, Scoop Jackson, Marcus Jackson and Loren Tate. One of these doesn’t belong. It’s me.

I’m hopping on the pregame show with Steve Kelly and Loren Tate. I’ll be back with you soon with another update.

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pitch9 wrote on January 05, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I am ever so happy to acknowledge that I was wrong in predicting a Buckeye victory.  I thought the key was the superb defense and improved rebounding.  It is great to see this team bounce back with good practices and a great effort today.  Kudos to coaches and players on a nice win.

increvable wrote on January 05, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Great win! It's really good to see Egwu emerging, we've needed him to step it up.

Now will all you folks who started going crazy after the Purdue game please take the big red panic button and put it on a high shelf.

afan wrote on January 05, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I was not expecting that, but I enjoyed it!

JimOATSfan wrote on January 05, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Woooah!  Great news to wake up to here in Australia.  Excellent effort and MAKING shots paid off for the team today. Egwu is The Man !?!

Hearty congrats to you!  ... and Coach Groce who is 1-0 vs Matta. 

Cheers!

Bwp 5P wrote on January 05, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I wish whoever has those seats in "A" that are always empty.........would give them to someone that reall wants to BE THERE!

Sorry to keep harping on this........but it's horrible that we have students sitting in "C" section and the same empty seats every game down close!

 

Other than that GREAT EFFORT today ILLINI....GREAT JOB!