No. 14 Ohio State 68, Illinois 55 — Final
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Deshaun Thomas, playing perhaps his final home game for No. 14 Ohio State, scored 19 points Sunday to lead the Buckeyes over Illinois 68-55 and keep alive their Big Ten title hopes.
The victory put Ohio State (23-7, 13-5) in position to grab a share of the conference title if No. 7 Michigan can win at home against No. 2 Indiana later on Sunday. The Buckeyes are assured the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament at Chicago’s United Center.
Brandon Paul scored 21 points for Illinois (21-11, 8-10), which is guaranteed the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten tournament.
Aaron Craft added 14 points and six assists while creating his usual havoc on defense. Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 10 points.
The Buckeyes have won five in a row, including wins over No. 2 Indiana and No. 4 Michigan State. They left the arena in the odd position of having to root for archrival Michigan to get a share of the title. They were seeking at least a piece of their fourth straight Big Ten crown and sixth in eight years.
Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 19.8 points a game, is expected to give up his senior season to enter the NBA draft.
Up by nine at the half, Ohio State did enough to hold off the Illini.
A technical foul on Smith — he thought he was fouled on a 3-point attempt and barked at an official — helped Illinois pick up three points to cut the lead to 43-35 midway through the second half.
But the next trip down the floor Thomas was fouled on a 3 and hit two foul shots. Craft then tipped a ball that led to an Illini turnover and Amir Williams scored off an inbounds play to increase the lead to 47-35.
Illinois pulled as close as 51-44 on consecutive 3s by Paul and Myke Henry.
But then Craft, who has broken out of a lethargic season with several big offensive games, drove the lane and banked in a layup in traffic. After an Illini miss, Thomas fed Evan Ravenel, the Buckeyes’ only senior, for a three-point play.
Craft then rebounded at the other end and tossed in a 3 late in the shot clock and the lead was 15 with less than six minutes left. Illinois didn’t threaten again.
The Buckeyes hadn’t forgotten what happened the last time these teams met. The Illini drilled Ohio State 74-55 at home on Jan. 5 — Illinois’ largest margin of victory over a top-10 opponent in almost 50 years. The Buckeyes came in averaging 10.3 turnovers but had 11 in the first half alone and finished with 16. For days after that, Ohio State’s players said they had embarrassed themselves and the university.
The first half was tight until the Buckeyes made a late 12-2 run. The teams were tied at the first three media timeouts, but Ohio State suddenly started attacking at the defensive end. Even though the Illini got decent shots, nothing was falling.
Thomas hit a fadeaway from 12 feet for a 23-22 lead, touching off a 9-0 run. Sam Thompson hit a foul shot and Smith popped in a perimeter jumper.
The Illini missed six shots during the drought, with a turnover thrown in. And what a turnover it was. Shannon Scott anticipated a pass and stepped in front of it, then whipped it around his back as he was falling out of bounds at the right sideline. It went to Craft in the middle of floor and he heaved it blindly over his head to Thomas, who was racing down the floor. Thomas faked a jumper and then rolled in a layup to make it 28-22.
Scott then had a 15-footer touch about every inch of the rim before falling to push the lead to eight points. After Paul hit two foul shots — the first for Illinois almost 17 minutes into the game — Scott followed a near-air ball by Scott and Thompson hit another free throw to put the Buckeyes ahead 33-24 at the break.
Thomas opened the second half with a baseline jumper to give the Buckeyes 14 of the last 16 points and an 11-point advantage.
Scott finished with seven points, nine rebounds and three assists off the bench.
It was definitely the final home game for Ravenel, a transfer who spent two years at Boston College.
The Buckeyes will play on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament against the winner of seventh-seeded Purdue and 11th-seeded Nebraska. The Illini will play ninth-seeded Minnesota on Thursday.
No. 14 Ohio State 47, Illinois 37 — 11:23 second half
The Illinois bench hasn’t given up. They were up greeting the players at halfcourt going into the under-12 timeout. Groce was leading the cheers.
The first shot attempt of the game for Nnanna Egwu cam on the first possession of the half. The big man only nine minutes after picking up two fouls.
Sam McLaurin and Brandon Paul each shot airballs on back-to-back possessions.
I’ve got it on good authority that the Illinois locker room wasn’t a pleasant place to be at halftime.
If this holds up, Ohio State is still in line for a share of the Big Ten title for the fourth straight season and the Buckeyes will lock up the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Illinois’ coaching staff better get the Minnesota film clips cued up.
The offense has no flow to it right now. It’s tough to watch.
Aaron Craft was actually called for a foul. It’s his second of the game and he didn’t like the call. He averages 2.2 fouls per game. That seems low for a guy who averages 2.0 steals per game. I do love watching him play.
ESPN.com’s Wayne Drehs wrote a story about Craft last week and has a theory on why the point guard is so hated. It’s because he’s white. I agree with him.
Lenzelle Smith thought he got fouled on a three-pointer then he received a technical.
Devin Langford finally checked in at about the 12-minute mark of the second half and he immediately had a defensive blunder that led to an Ohio State bucket on an inbounds play.
A kid was trying to run up the steps near me to catch a prize falling from the ceiling. He tripped.
No. 14 Ohio State 33, Illinois 24 — Halftime
Illinois tried to double team Deshaun Thomas in the post. A good idea, but he found Lenzelle Smith Jr. on the other side of the floor for a three-pointer.
Myke Henry doing what Myke Henry does on the offensive glass. He’s playing with a lot of energy. But, Myke has four offensive rebounds and only two points. He needs to convert more of those.
Jared Sullinger was recognized during the under-8 timeout at center court. The Celtics big man is wearing a ridiculous gold chain. He’s been out with a back injury.
The Illinois bench all rushed to Devin Langford going into a timeout, applauding his effort on the offensive glass. He just needs to do a better job of finishing down there when he gets them.
Sam Thompson shot a free throw and the whole crowd groaned as soon as it left his hand, they knew is was really wide.
The crowd here was ready to erupt when Deshaun led Sam Thompson with a pass for a breakaway. But the pass was too long. It would have been showtime for the best dunker in the league.
Illinois shot 30 percent in the half (9 for 30) and 26.7 percent (4 for 15) from long range.
D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul led the way with seven points apiece.
Ohio State shot 50 percent (12 for 24) from the floor and 37.5 percent (3 for 8) from beyond the arc.
Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. all had seven points.
Myke Henry leads everybody with six rebounds. OSU won the rebounding battle 18-17. Illinois has six offensive rebounds and two second-chance points.
Tyler Griffey’s got a pair of early three-pointers. The Illini will need more of those.
Illinois 10, No. 14 Ohio State 10 — 11:13 first half
The Illinois bench is upset at the officiating, particularly on the sequence right before the under-12 timeout where Shannon Scott double dribbled and Nnanna Egwu was called for a block on an Aaron Craft drive to the bucket. Egwu and McLaurin each have two fouls.
Craft went down hard on the play but it looks like he’ll be all right.
D.J. Richardson hit a three on Illinois’ first possession of the game. He’s got a trey in every game this season and 38 in a row dating back to last season.
Mike Sanzere, Larry Scirotto and Lamont Simpson are the officials today. Sanzere got Nnanna Egwu with a moving screen early in the half.
Devin Langford checked in early for Illinois with Joseph Bertrand likely out for today’s game. Devin last played a meaningful minute in the first half one moth ago today at Minnesota. He played one minute.
Ohio State has missed a few bunnies here early.
Illinois is switching everything on defense here to start the game.
Groce didn’t like the call Larry Scirotto made against Sam McLaurin for his second foul. Looked like McLaurin got held by Ravenel.
Bertrand is sitting in the middle of the Illinois bench with his hooded warmup jacket on.
Illinois (21-10, 8-9) at No. 14 Ohio State (22-7, 12-5) — 30 minutes before tipoff (ESPN)
The Ohio State senior managers were honored prior to tipoff along with Ravenel. The Ohio State players, coaches and cheerleaders made a tunnel for them all to walk through while their bios were read.
The brother of former Buckeye Matt Terwilliger was one of the student managers honored.
There was a video presentation for Ravenel. Deshaun Thomas danced as Ravenel was introduced. Thad Matta gave him a big hug. Remember when Matta lost his cool last week Ravenel stands 6 feet, 8 inches. His dad, Eugene, has to be about 6-foot-7.
Jim Jackson highlights were featured during the Ohio State pregame video. Jim was mouthing words back then that would not be fit for broadcast on the Big Ten Network. His number 22 is retired here.
There are a lot of little kids wearing No. 4 jerseys here.
Illinois’s starters today are Tracy Abrams, D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu. That lineup is 3-5 this season.
Joseph Bertrand likely won’t play. He hurt his shoulder in practice the other day.
Illinois (21-10, 8-9) at No. 14 Ohio State (22-7, 12-5) — 30 minutes before tipoff (ESPN)
Aaron Craft had a gang of little kids surrounding him off to the side of the court here and he signed autographs for at least five minutes as the line continued to grow. He’s an enormously popular figure here in Columbus. The Big Ten Network cameras were surrounding him to document it all.
Spectators were given those handheld fans with a photograph of Evan Ravenel’s face on it. The number 3 is on the back. I’m guessing they flash those when an Ohio State player hits a three-pointer.
I’m wondering how Illinois is going to come out today. Before the time change, this is a 10:30 a.m. Central tip time. If they don’t come out strong, they’ll be playing at 11 a.m. Thursday.
I’m guessing this will be the final home game for Deshaun Thomas at Value City Arena. The Ohio State junior is an NBA guy. He’s also got a young son to think about in terms of his future.
The question is what position will Thomas play in the NBA. He’s got all the skills of an NBA 3 man, but can he guard a 3? He’s made some serious strides on the defensive end since the season began.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas is here. He made the trip yesterday with the team.
Illinois signee Maverick Morgan, of Springboro, Ohio, played a playoff game last night in Dayton, leading his team to a 57-56 win against Cincinnati Moeller. Big Maverick had 18 points, 11 boards and five blocks as Springboro won its first district title in a decade.
Illinois (21-10, 8-9) at No. 14 Ohio State (22-7, 12-5) — 60 minutes before tipoff (ESPN)
After tonight’s game, I have to turn in my All-Big Ten ballot. As far as the first team is concerned, there are four guys who are locks: Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo, Deshaun Thomas and Cody Zeller. Who’s the fifth guy? Where do D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul figure in? Third team?
The Coach of the Year race is an interesting one. If Thad Matta can get a fourth straight Big Ten title, does he get consideration? How about what Bo Ryan’s done at Wisconsin? The Badgers are going to be 12-6 after losing their point guard. Is John Groce in the mix if Illinois wins today?
What I do know is the Illini will have quite the presence on “The Journey” tonight. It’s the Senior Day episode and the BTN crew was in Champaign last week catching up with D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey.
They were also at Indiana and Wisconsin.
“For Illinois, we did two little pieces, one on D.J. and Brandon’s friendship, a look back at their great moments. We did one on Tyler Griffey, focusing on what he’s done this year, cementing his place in Illini lore with the win over Indiana,” “Journey” executive producer Bill Friedman said. “One of the things Senior Night forces the student-athletes to do is to take stock of their four years because of the finality of the last home game. You see some introspective stuff from the three seniors we talked to from the Illini.”
It’s the second time this season Richardson will be featured on the show.
“Working with “The Journey” has always been great. They’re a great group of guys. It’s good exposure, it’s a blessing to be on that show,” he said.
Saw special assistant Brandon Miller walking around the court this morning with a Starbucks in his hand. Not sure if Brandon is confused about which bench to sit on today. He spent some time here as an assistant to Thad Matta. It’s got to be strange for him to come back here.
John Groce, of course, was an assistant for a few years here, too.
Illinois (21-10, 8-9) at No. 14 Ohio State (22-7, 12-5) — 90 minutes before tipoff (ESPN)
Good morning from the regular-season finale here at Value City Arena where both the Illini and Buckeyes have something to play for today.
With a win and some help, Ohio State can win a share of the Big Ten title for the fourth consecutive year. Pretty impressive stuff from Hoopeston’s Thad Matta.
With a win today, the Illini would be the seventh seed in the Big Ten tournament which begins Thursday at the United Center. That would mean a 5:30 p.m. tip against 10th-seeded Nebraska.
Illinois swept the Cornhuskers this season.
A loss today for the Illini would give them the 8 seed and an 11 a.m. game against ninth-seeded Minnesota. Illinois split the season series against the Gophers, whose only Big Ten road win was against the Illini at the Assembly Hall back in January.
Tubby Smith might be coaching for his job.
Speaking of coaches and jobs, how about the job Bruce Weber has done at Kansas State this year? The Wildcats lost at Oklahoma State yesterday, but Kansas’ loss at Baylor got them a share of the Big 12 title, the first conference title for K-State since 1977. Loren Tate was like 45 in 1977.
For Kansas coach Bill Self, Weber’s predecessor at Illinois, it was the ninth consecutive season he’s won at least a share of the Big 12 title. Now, if only Self’s Illinois predecessor, Lon Kruger (Oklahoma), can get in on the action, former Illinois coaches would own the Big 12.
Regardless of what happens here today, to this point this has been a successful season for the Illinois program. Most would have taken an 8-10 record before Big Ten play started, and the win against Indiana was special. If this team can get to 9-9 with a win on the road against the red-hot Buckeyes, that would be icing on the cake.
One of the first things you see entering the Value City Arena is a mural featuring a photo of Matt (Freaking) Sylvester rising for his game-winner against the Illini in the 2005 season finale with Roger Powell and Jack Ingram trying to defend. They were not successful.
Aaron Craft was the first player on the floor today. The OSU point guard is hamming it up with Bob Wischusen and Dan Dakich. They’ll call the game today for ESPN.
Tyler Griffey, Mike LaTulip and Mike Shaw were the first Illini on the floor today in their blue uniforms.
The Buckeyes are wearing white today on Senior Day. Evan Ravenel, the lone OSU senior, is on the cover of the game program. That Matta is 7-1 on Senior Day at OSU, FYI.
I’m headed to do the pregame show with Loren Tate and Steve Kelly. I’ll be back with another update soon.