No. 14 Ohio State 68, UI 55: Notebook
COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the Illinois players went through the layup line prior to Sunday’s 68-55 loss at No. 14 Ohio State, Joseph Bertrand stood behind his teammates watching.
The fourth-year junior guard didn’t participate in the pregame routine and he didn’t play in Sunday’s game after suffering a shoulder injury in practice late last week. It was the first game Bertrand missed this season and the first full game an Illinois player has missed because of injury this season.
“Our doctors took a look at him, our trainers did as well. They just thought it was best we rehab him and give him the best chance to recover,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Could he have (gone) today? Maybe, but might not have been as effective. I thought the right thing to do for Joe was to try to give him a chance to get healthy leading into the Big Ten tournament. That was my decision as well as the doctor and the trainers.
“We’re hoping he’s able to go and this time of rehabbing and getting treatment is beneficial to him.”
In Bertrand’s absence, starters Tracy Abrams (33 minutes), Brandon Paul (36) and D.J. Richardson (39) saw extended action.
“We’re so used to (Bertrand being available), it’s just different,” Abrams said. “You just know you have to play a little more, fight through a little bit more fatigue and just get through it. Hopefully he gets back.”
Said Paul: “It was tough. Joe does a lot of things for us, whether he’s scoring on one night or getting rebounds or just playing hard; he’s played hard for us this year. It was obviously tough. He’s a good guy, he’ll get better.”
The injury to Bertrand meant Groce had to go deeper into his bench to spell his regular guards. Devin Langford, who had played one meaningful minute in Big Ten play while not seeing action in 10 conference games, played 13 minutes Sunday. The redshirt freshman didn’t score and grabbed three rebounds.
“He rebounded it well. He had the one where it was a great shot fake under the basket and we missed the layup. We need to finish that one,” Groce said. “I liked his effort. I thought he was good defensively, gave us some good minutes.”
Paul and Richardson sought out Langford after the game to commend his effort.
“I think Devin came in and played some huge minutes for us. The little things he did — offensive rebounds, steals, keeping it open on the glass — those are plays that are going to help us down the stretch,” Paul said.
Illinois sophomore Myke Henry continues to play some of the best basketball of his career late in the season for the Illini.
On Sunday, he scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds in the loss. Last week against Nebraska, Henry had 12 points and a career-high nine boards.
“I thought Henry was really active. Aside from a couple balls that got slapped out of his hands after he got offensive rebounds, he had eight boards in 24 minutes,” Groce said. “He was active. I really like the progress that he’s been making this late in the year.”
Henry grabbed six offensive rebounds Sunday. No one else on either team had more than two.
“I’m comfortable now,” Henry said. “Coach always tells me when I get in the game to bring energy, rebound, and that’s what I did. I feel pretty confident.”
Sunday was Groce’s first game at Ohio State since serving as an assistant for the Buckeyes under Thad Matta from 2004 to ’08.
He shook hands and said hello to many familiar faces at Value City Arena.
In the head-to-head matchups with Matta, one of his mentors, Groce is now 1-1.
“John’s been doing it a long time, I’ve been doing it a long time, and as you get older in this profession it’s never personal. I root for John and Illinois when they play, and I know he roots for us when we play. It’s the job. It is what it is,” Matta said. “He’s doing a great job, and he’s going to continue doing a great job there. I know this: I know he’s excited to be there and about what they’re building.”
Sunday’s episode of the Big Ten Network’s show “The Journey” was the second time this season Illinois was featured prominently.
The program spent time with Richardson last month, tracing his roots to Peoria and the Illinois connection with that city.
Sunday’s episode was all about various Senior Days around the league, with a look at Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois.
The BTN crew was in Champaign last week catching up with Richardson, Paul and Tyler Griffey ahead of the home finale against Nebraska.
“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,” said the show’s executive producer, Bill Friedman. “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.”
Said Richardson: “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.”
When Sunday’s game ended, Ohio State put itself in position to win a share of the Big Ten championship. Michigan had to beat Indiana later in the day for the Buckeyes to claim a piece of their fourth straight league title.
The players were asked afterward if they had plans to watch the game and if they were rooting for the Wolverines.
“They play today?” Deshaun Thomas joked.
“We’ve got schoolwork to get caught up on today,” Aaron Craft quipped. “I’m cleaning my apartment.”
The Buckeyes weren’t tipping their hand about what their plans were for the Indiana-Michigan game, which the Hoosiers came back to win 72-71.
They were, however, pleased with putting themselves in position to win a championship with their five-game win streak after a 71-49 loss at Wisconsin three weeks ago.
“There’s no point in worrying about something we have no control over,” Craft said. “Obviously, we would love for it to happen, but if it doesn’t it’s out of our hands. We did what we needed to do and what we’ll do the rest of the day is enjoy this win, come back tomorrow, find a way to get better and move on.”
Former Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger was recognized during a timeout in Sunday’s game. Sullinger, a first-round pick last June for the Boston Celtics, is sitting out the remainder of his rookie season after having back surgery.
“It was cool. It’s always good having my old roommate, old teammates coming back to support us. Jared is a good friend of mine and it was good to see him,” Ohio State’s Evan Ravenel said after referring to Sullinger as “Fatty.” “He actually looks real slim even after sitting out with the injury.
He’s doing real well, keeping his body in shape. I’m happy for him.”
Ravenel, the lone senior on the Ohio State roster, was honored before playing his final game at Value City Arena.
Thomas, a junior, was not honored, but he very well might have been playing his last game there, too. The preseason All-American could bolt for the NBA after this season.
Thomas was asked after the game if that was the case and received a curious look from Ravenel.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Thomas asked Ravenel.
“I want to know, too,” Ravenel responded.
The Big Ten’s scoring leader, Thomas will make his decision after the Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament run concludes.
“Right now, there’s a lot more basketball left, so I’m just going to enjoy my time, try to get to the Final Four; that’s all I’m worried about right now,” Thomas said. “All I care about is this team and coaches and trying to get better.”
Former Indiana player and coach Dan Dakich called the game for ESPN and said Thomas has quietly gone about his business this season while Michigan’s Trey Burke and Indiana’s duo of Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller have received most of the attention.
“I think he’s got to be in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year,” Dakich said. “I didn’t think about it until today, I said ‘Wait, this dude is pretty damn good, too.’ ”