Ohio State picked up one of its best wins of the season on Thursday, going on the road and knocking out Illinois 86-83 in a wild game that included blown leads from both teams, an ejection and a late effort by Fighting Illini that provided a thrilling finish at State Farm Center.
Playing its third game in five nights, Ohio State fell behind early and trailed by no less than 13 in the first half as Illinois established an early advantage with the Crown powerhouse at home on the back. But after halftime, the Buckeyes took control of the game and built their own double-digit lead before the Fighting Illini fought back and gave themselves a chance to tie or win in the final minute.
The fact that Illinois got back into the game was impressive given that coach Brad Underwood was sent off with over six minutes left in the second half and star big man Kofi Cockburn was fouled under two minutes. later. When Underwood, who was sent off with a second technical foul after picking up his first earlier in half, turned to the stands to inflame the home crowd as he exited the pitch, the score was 70 -58. Ohio State converted both free throw technical fouls and subsequent possession, but what followed was an 18-4 run by the Fighting Illini that cut the Buckeyes’ lead to two points with 1: 49 to play.
Underwood’s ejection follows that of UConn coach Dan Hurley, who was at home this week against a quality opponent and sparked something of a run for his team. The difference being that the Huskies stormed back and took the win while Ohio State was able to hold off any momentum the Illini got from the Underwood theater and took the win. The Fighting Illini went 8-0 in the final minutes and cut the lead to two points with 1:49 remaining, and Trent Frazier hit a 3-pointer to close for a point with 14 seconds left. but ultimately never regained the lead after relinquishing it early in the second half.
Cockburn’s foul trouble was a major storyline
Cockburn’s absence was extended beyond the final minutes when he was fouled and included the many minutes he was fouled. It unquestionably had an impact on how Illinois played around the edge at both ends of the floor when Cockburn was on the bench, and while a bonus for Ohio State, it left something to be desired with the potential for more EJ Liddell matchups. Both players are going to be up for All-Conference and All-America honors, so for Cockburn’s loathsome trouble to be a lingering storyline brings some disappointment, but Liddell’s performance has its own story. which adds intrigue to this result.
Liddell has his “flu game”
Earlier Thursday, Ohio State made it official that team leader EJ Liddell in points (19.5), rebounds (7.6) and blocks (2.5) was “questionable” for the game against the flu, but he was eventually cleared to play. Liddell not only started, but led the team in minutes played, rebounds and blocks, adding more highlights to his impressive reel as one of the hardest-hitting players in the country. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds and four blocks in 35 minutes, providing a solid scoring option and key defensive stops in the paint.
Branham’s Escape Continues
It’s possible that Ohio State’s cap in the NCAA tournament hinges on whether rookie Malaki Branham’s recent surge is a season-ending blip or a sign of what’s to come in the coming weeks. future. Branham was one of the top 40 prospects coming out of St. Vincent-St. Mary is in Akron, and he’s exploded in the past three games with 22 points in a loss to Iowa, 27 points in a win over Indiana and 31 in Thursday’s win over Illinois. Branham had recorded just three games with 20+ points all season prior to this run and his emergence helped create an advantage that could be beneficial in the playoffs. He’s not only a prolific goalscorer, but also a great driver for the perimeter attack that can allow EJ Liddell to pick his spots with diverted attention elsewhere.