Live! At No. 17 Ohio State

No. 17 Ohio State 62, Illinois 55 — FINAL

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a game between teams each riding four-game losing streaks, the 17th-ranked Buckeyes used 18 points from top scorer LaQuinton Ross and erased a one-point halftime deficit to knock off the struggling Illini at Value City Arena.

Illinois (13-7, 2-5 Big Ten) got  a game-high 19 points from fifth-year senior Joseph Bertrand in a game in which leading scorer Rayvonte Rice was held scoreless.

Nnanna Egwu, who had been scoreless in his previous two games, scored 10 points for the Illini, the first time in 10 games he’s reached double figures.

Illinois has now dropped five straight for the first time since losing six in a row late in the 2011-12 season.

More later on HQ.

No. 17 Ohio State 40, Illinois 34 — 11:23 second half

Ohio State, known for its defense, has really turned it on at that end of the floor and that’s the reason the Buckeyes have taken a six-point lead at this point in the second half.

The Illini have turned it over five times in the eight minutes, 20 seconds of the half.

You’ve got to take care of the ball against these guys

Nnanna Egwu continued his strong play from the first half into the second half, knocking down a pair of early jumpers.

Rayvonte Rice, hasn’t played particularly well tonight. He missed a good layup opportunity after the first timeout.

Great hustle play by him, though, blocking an Aaron Craft layup from behind after turning the ball over.

Overheard in the crowd “He’s really bad!” That was after Amir Williams missed a two-handed dunk and then had a layup blocked on the same possession.

Lenzelle Smith has been limping around ever since he converted that layup in transition. Watch to see if he’s able to come back and be effective after that.

They showed halftime highlights here. All seven of OSU’s first-half buckets were the extent of it.

By the way, Illinois has just one timeout remaining. 

Illinois 25, No. 17 Ohio State 24 — Halftime

Encouraging for Illinois fans that their team is leading at the half on the road in a game where Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams, who combine to average 30 points per game, are scoreless. They’re 0 for 8 from the floor and have turned it over four times.

Interesting observation from the Twitter folks. Nnanna Egwu seems to play better with Jaylon Tate on the court. Tate does a great job of putting Egwu in positions to score easily.

Egwu has been solid at both ends of the floor tonight. He’s got five rebounds and two blocks.

Tate has been really good at finding open guys. He hit Ekey and Egwu for consecutive dunks to end the half for the Illini. He’s got three assists with two turnovers.

The Ohio State fans near me seem to be looking forward to their guys missing shots so they can have something to complain about. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to voice their displeasure.

Kendrick Nunn had a breakaway attempt during the half and laid it in. Loren was surprised he didn’t dunk it. “He’s a sensational dunker.” My response: “You can’t screw around when No. 4 is anywhere near you.”

At one point during the half, Ohio State was 4 for 20 from the floor and seven of their 14 points to that juncture were second-chance points. This has not been a beautiful offensive display by any stretch.

I predicted Ohio State to win a game in the 60s tonight. I should have kept it in the 40s. Didn’t think it would be this bad.

Illinois shot 10 for 26 (38 percent) from the floor and 2 for 8 (25 percent) from three.

Joseph Bertrand leads the way with 10 points and Egwu has six while Ekey has five.

Ohio State shot 29 percent (7 for 24) from the floor and 3 for 10 from long range.

The Buckeyes got six points from Lenzelle Smith and five from Amir Williams.

OSU won the rebounding battle 19-17. The Buckeyes got nine offensive rebounds for seven second-chance points.

They have a “Dare Cam” here. They show people and ask them to try to lick their elbow. Folks tried and failed, predictably.

They should dare these teams to string together some buckets.

No. 17 Ohio State 7, Illinois 7 — 11:23 first half

Good for Nnanna Egwu. He dropped a short baseline jumper then converted off a real nice feed on an alley-oop pass from Jaylon Tate. Illinois was 1 for 10, I believe, before Egwu hit his first shot.

Nnanna was 0 for his last 10 and his night didn’t get off to a promising start as he picked up a foul and was lifted from the game less than two minutes in.

Each team turned it over on their first offensive possession. Not good for a couple of teams struggling offensively.

Ohio State fans got restless on their team’s second offensive possession as the shot clock wound down. “I’ve seen this offense before and I don’t like it,” one fan said. Another one yelled “Throw the ball inside!”

It took Illinois 3 minutes, 39 seconds to score. These fans here would have been ready to riot if it took their team that long to score.

Holy terrible rebounding early for Illinois. Ohio State had four offensive rebounds at the first timeout. They were on pace to grab 40. It was possible with as poor as they shoot it.

Are these teams this good defensively, or are they each this bad offensively?

Jon Ekey’s shot looks flat. There was no arc on his first three-point attempt.

Sam Thompson jumps really high. A Thompson dunk might be Ohio State’s best shot.

How’s the broadcast?

Illinois (13-6, 2-4) at No. 17 Ohio State (15-4, 2-4) — TIPOFF (ESPN)

Illinois will go with its usual starters: Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.

Ohio State will go with its regulars: Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and Amir Williams.

Both teams have used the same five starters in every game this season.

By the way, Rayvonte Rice will be featured on Sunday’s edition of  “The Journey.” The episode will air immediately following Sunday’s game at Indiana on Big Ten Network.

Loren Tate, my travel partner today, will also be a part of that show. I’ll have more on that this weekend.

Speaking of “The Journey” hope you got a chance to see the episode with Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. They profiled the junior guard and his dad, Charlie Scott, the first black scholarship athlete at North Carolina. Scott played eight years in the NBA. He’s here, sitting not too far from where I am now.

In the media room, I heard some OSU media folks talking about Keita Bates-Diop, the Normal U-High star, who signed with the Buckeyes in November.

I’ve spotted Shannon Ryan (Chicago Tribune), Steve Greenberg (Sun-Times), Bret Beherns (WCIA) and Rob McColley (Smile Politely) here covering the Illini.

A pregame video touting Ohio State’s basketball history featured Buckeyes greats Jim Jackson, David Lighty, Evan Turner, Bob Knight and Clark Kellogg. Knight got a nice hand when he said “One national championship.”

John Groce, former Ohio State assistant, hugged a couple of ushers and Value City Center personnel on his way to the team bench. I think they like him here.

Tonight’s officials are Mike Eads, Brian Dorsey and Glen Mayborg.

Illinois (13-6, 2-4) at No. 17 Ohio State (15-4, 2-4) — 6 p.m. ESPN

The Ohio State student section, The Nut House, is already in its seats, sitting orderly until the game begins. Then they’ll turn into a bunch of nuts. They hardly reacted when Illinois took the court 30 minutes before game time. One of them, face painted half scarlet, half gray, tried to give Maverick Morgan a high-five. Rayvonte Rice pulled Morgan away from the fan.

Most of them are outfitted on gear provided by Homage, a fantastic company that began as a local t-shirt shop that has taken off nationally in recent years. Homage has some Illini gear, too. You should check them out.

Remember, Morgan is a native of Springboro, Ohio. He’s sure to have some friends and family in attendance.

A woman in an Aaron Craft jersey chatted up UI staffer Ryan Pedon before the game. Pedon is from Columbus and he most recently coached at Toledo.

There are people behind me, questioning their sanity on what the heck they’re doing here, braving the polar vortex. I can feel the cold air from the doors being open upstairs on the back of my head and neck.

Pretty light turnout, so far, but we’re still a half hour away from the tip. The game will actually begin at 6:02 p.m.

The four days between games has given Rayvonte Rice a chance to heal from that adductor injury. Expect to see a more explosive Rice tonight.

Austin Colbert threw down an easy reverse dunk in warm-ups and got a mock cheer from the Nut House. I asked Groce about Colbert yesterday, who hasn’t played at all the last three games. He says it’s been a coach’s decision. Colbert has practiced really well for stretches, he’s really talented, but he’s still got some work to do.

If OSU scores 70 or more tonight, fans get free fries. People on the shuttle from the parking lot were talking about that earlier.

Illinois (13-6, 2-4) at No. 17 Ohio State (15-4, 2-4) — 6 p.m. ESPN

Good evening from chilly Columbus, Ohio where two struggling programs are looking to end four-game losing streaks. Who would have thought the Buckeyes and the Illini would be battling on Jan. 23 for sole possession of eighth place in the Big Ten?

The Buckeyes are still in pretty good shape, in terms of getting to the postseason. They were 15-0 and had a couple of wins that looked impressive at the time on the road against Marquette and against Notre Dame in New York. Loren Tate and I listened to Dan Dakich on the drive over today and he had Fran Fraschilla on the show today and they talked about the Buckeyes’ struggles and the consensus was they don’t have good enough shooters and no presence on the inside on the offensive end.

It sounded a lot like they were talking about the Illini.

I’m interested to see what the crowd will be like here tonight with the Buckeyes coming off a disappointing loss at Nebraska. They typically don’t fill this building that holds better than 18,000 and there’s some competition here in town.

Listening to Columbus radio this afternoon, there was a serious debate about whether folks were going to use their Ohio State tickets tonight, or if they’d head across town to watch the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets are riding a seven-game win streak, the best in franchise history and it’s the 1,000th game in the history of that team. It’s a big night for hockey here in Columbus.

Plus, it’s really, really cold outside, so folks might not want to brave the elements to watch a struggling team play against another struggling team tonight.

Got here to the arena about two hours before the tip and most of the Ohio State players were on the floor, headphones on getting up some extra shots. Amir Williams walked in at the same time as me, so he wasn’t among those early shooters.

Mike LaTulip was the first Illinois player on the court tonight getting up some shots. Jaylon Tate joined him soon after.

Ohio State will wear white tonight. The Illini will wear blue.

I’m a fan of the blue uniforms.

I’m going to check things out here and get back to you with another update soon.

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