Prior to losing three straight games with a brutally tough schedule at the end of the Big Ten season, the Buckeyes were arguably the hottest team in the country (based on quality of wins). One of those victories came in Champaign against an Illinois team that's unquestionably national championship-caliber.
Since losing to the Buckeyes, No. 4 Illinois has won 10 of its last 11 games and came to Columbus looking for revenge. Plus, the Fighting Illini just pounded No. 2 Michigan on Tuesday and felt like they had all the momentum coming into the final tune-up before postseason play.
Given the stage and the March Madness implications, this game lived up to the hype. But it was a crushing finish for No. 7 Ohio State, which missed its last 10 shots in a row. Illinois closed the game on a 8-0 run and beat the Buckeyes 73-68.
Da'Monte Williams hit a three-pointer with just under 90 seconds to play to tie the game at 68-68. Duane Washington Jr. missed a trey on the other end, which the Illini rebounded. Ayo Dosunmu took the next possession to the bucket, made a layup, and drew a foul on Justice Sueing with 44.7 to play.
Sueing fouled out with 15 points and eight rebounds in one of his better games in recent memory. Dosunmu added two more free throws at the end.
The Buckeyes played more than half the game trailing the Illini, but played great defense most of the second half. They held Illinois to just 9-of-23 from the floor in the second half.
Here are a few notes on how the game wrapped up.
*Illinois had been playing its best basketball lately without its best player, Ayo Dosunmu, who had missed time with a facial injury. He returned to action this afternoon and wore a thick, protective mask during the game. Dosunmu was exceptional, finishing the day with 19 points.
*C.J. Walker and Kyle Young had a tough first half of their Senior Day, but both played with great energy after the intermission. Young scored two points in his final game at home this year, while Walker finished with seven points, six rebounds and three assists.
*Ohio State trailed by as many as 10 late in the first half (36-26), but cut it to a four-point game by the half. E.J. Liddell had a great offensive rebound and put-back layup to help cut into the deficit.
*Illinois killed the Buckeyes in the paint in the first half. The Illini hit 17-of-23 from 2-point range, the vast majority of which were from inside the key. Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo all had 10-plus points by halftime and the Illini shot 62 percent from the floor. Curbelo in particular was tough, converting on plays like this throughout the game.
*In the second half, the Buckeyes made a concerted effort to drive at Cockburn. After he dominated the Scarlet and Gray over the first 20 minutes, OSU forced him to commit four fouls by the 7:20 mark in the second half. In the same breath, E.J. Liddell only had five points in the first half before playing with much more freedom in the second stanza. Liddell finished with 19 on 8-of-17 shooting.
*Both teams got in foul trouble in the second half. Justice Sueing, Walker and Cockburn all played with four fouls late in the game. There were 18 total fouls called in less than 15 minutes of a very physical second half.
More to come after Chris Holtmann's postgame press conference, which can be streamed live on our website and on YouTube channel.
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