For the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team, their Big Ten conference season got off to a rocky start on New Year’s Day. At Illinois, the Buckeyes took on a beatable Fighting Illini team. One big advantage for the scarlet and gray was the fact that with it being winter break, Illinois’ students were not in session, which meant there was no student section. That had a great effect on the noise inside the arena.
Even without the students in attendance, Ohio State dug themselves into a big hole early and couldn’t fully climb out of it in their 75-70 loss in Champagne, Illinois Sunday night.
After holding a 19-17 lead midway through the first half, the Bucks allowed the Illini to go on a 17-2 run to take a 15-point lead. That, along with plenty of scoring droughts in the opening 20 minutes, forced Ohio State to take a 40-29 deficit into the halftime locker room.
Even though they were down 11 at half, the Buckeyes were able to take a 58-57 lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the game. Whether it was the fact that they used too much energy trying to overcome an 11-point deficit or that Illinois finally got their groove back, the scarlet and gray gave up the lead for good with two minutes remaining in the game. If only they played the first half like they did in the second, right?
In the loss, Ohio State point guard JaQuan Lyle had one of his best games of the season, finishing with 26 points (18 in the second half), five rebounds, three assists, and two steals while shooting 10-of-18 from the field, 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, and making 4-of-5 free throws. Following the game, head coach Thad Matta was proud of how his guard played even though his team lost.
“He had a great pace about him today; he did a great job of finishing. He kept things simple, which was crucial for him.”
Marc Loving 10 points, five rebounds, three assists), and Kam Williams (10 points, two rebounds, two assists) also scored in double figures. Jae’Sean Tate (nine points, nine rebounds, one assist, one steal) was just one point and rebound away from finishing with a double-double.
Surprisingly, the Buckeyes shot very well from the free-throw line, making 9-of-11 attempts.
Coming up this week:
Thursday vs. No. 15 Purdue (12-3, 1-1), 7 p.m. ET
Sunday at Minnesota (13-2, 1-1), 7:30 p.m. ET