This Ohio State team is incredibly tough. When their culture has been tested this season, they've responded with poise and confidence.
For as impressive as the wins over Rutgers and Northwestern have been, Saturday's victory for the Buckeyes was awfully telling about Ohio State's mental fortitude.
Playing for the second straight game without two point guards (C.J. Walker and Jimmy Sotos), Ohio State led by as many as 18 points in the first half and gutted out a really tough road victory at No. 14 Illinois, 87-81.
Former Illinois Mr. Basketball winner E.J. Liddell had an absolutely monster day in the Buckeyes first game in Champaign in his career. He scored a career-high 26 points and was an absolute monster game. The Ohio State big man hit more 3-pointers on Saturday (4-of-7) than he had hit combined through the first 13 games this season (three).
But for as well as Liddell played offensively, he was equally impressive on the defensive end of the floor. He, Zed Key and Kyle Young made life very difficult on Kofi Cockburn, who is one of the premier post players in all of college basketball. Cockburn came into the game with nine double-doubles (which leads the nation) and he's averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds. On Saturday he finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but until late in the second half, it was very difficult for Illinois to get him the ball the way they wanted to.
Illinois stars Ayo Dosunmu and Cockburn only had four points apiece in the first half, but finished the game with 37 as they surged the Illini back into the game.
Justin Ahrens had a terrific afternoon as well, connecting on several critical 3-pointers. he finished with 11 points before fouling out with 27 seconds to go.
The Buckeyes sealed the win by holding strong on the defensive end and connecting on free throws late. They did not hit a basket from the floor in the final 3:21.
Seth Towns also gave the Buckeyes great production off the bench with 11 points in 15 minutes.
As a team, Ohio State hit 11-of-21 3's, marking one of their best shooting games of the year.
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