No. 17 OSU 62, UI 55: 'Let one get away'
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the 17th-ranked Buckeyes limping into Thursday’s game against equally struggling Illinois, there was serious debate on Ohio sports radio whether fans in the state’s capital city should skip the basketball game and instead head across town to watch the NHL’s Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Ohio State and Illinois each entered their Big Ten tilt riding four-game losing skids, while the Jackets were celebrating the franchise’s 1,000th game and an all-time best seven-game win streak.
Buckeyes fans, 16,774 of them, braved sub-zero temperatures to find their seats at Value City Arena and then cheered their team on to a 62-55 win against Illinois.
“We were able to get our crowd into it,” said Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross, who scored a team-high 18 points. “It was great being back home and having that support.”
As you might expect, there were plenty of smiles, hugs and high-fives going around among the Ohio State players after ending the skid.
“I’m just so excited for my team right now. I got a chance to see guys smile, and I miss that,” Ohio State guard Lenzelle Smith (16 points, five rebounds) said. “As a senior, you want to see your team smile as much as possible.”
Having lost five straight for the first time in two years, Illinois had little joy in its locker room. The Illini (13-7, 2-5 Big Ten) have not won since entering the Top 25 on Jan. 6, and things don’t figure to get any easier with a trip to Indiana on Sunday followed by back-to-back home games against Top 10 foes Iowa and Wisconsin.
“They’re a proud group. You get on a streak like we’re on right now and you go in there and it’s probably not a ball of joy right now. I wouldn’t think it would be,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “We want them to have fun — it should be fun playing basketball at this level. When you’re competing with toughness and togetherness and you’re sharing the ball and you’re executing and you’re locked in, that’s fun. You control some of that with your effort and your execution.”
Rayvonte Rice didn’t have much fun against the Buckeyes. Illinois’ leading scorer, who entered the game fourth in the Big Ten averaging 17.4 points per game, was held scoreless for the first time in his career.
“He’ll be good. We’re not really worried about him,” Joseph Bertrand said. “We’ve got to keep pushing him.”
Bertrand (19 points) and Nnanna Egwu (10 points, nine rebounds) picked up the slack along with Jon Ekey (11 points, five rebounds, three steals).
“I just think overall it was a tough game for all of us, no matter how hard we played, we kind of let one get away,” Egwu said. “Once again, we’ve got to learn from it and keep moving forward.”