LaQuinton Ross walked off the floor and to Ohio State bench looking to take his seat, but Thad Matta wasn’t going to let him walk by without getting in a few words. With his armed wrapped around Ross’ torso, Matta got within an inch of Ross’ face and opened the floodgates. By the time the lecture was over, Matta’s face was beat red and Ross’ was expressionless. “Face the challenges,” Matta said to Ross’ back after finally letting him go. “It’s not going to be easy.” If only Matta would have been talking to the entire team. When the game was over, the No. 22 Buckeyes were victorious, beating last-place Illinois' 48-39 in the State Farm Arena. But though Ohio State (20-6, 7-6 Big Ten) picked up its fourth victory in five games, it faced many of the weaknesses that have caused the Buckeyes to fall out of the conference race. Poor shooting. Ohio State missed jumper after jumper for the majority of the game. Thought they got hot in the second half to create separation, the Buckeyes finished the game shooting only 38.3 percent (18-for-47) from the floor. Trouble knocking down shots has been a season-long problem. Scoring droughts. Illinois shot poorly, too – finishing 28.3 percent from the floor (15-for-53) – but the Illini (14-11, 3-9) outscored the Buckeyes 4-2 in the last 5:57 of the first half to take a 23-20 lead into the locker room. Yep, that was the real score. Illinois just happened to be worse at both. "Our offense was anemic today," Illinois coach John Groce, a former Ohio State assistant, said. "We felt like we probably should have been up by a lot more than three at the half." But this time Ohio State did what it couldn't in a loss to home loss to Michigan on Tuesday - made the necessary plays with the game on the line to come away with a win. Clinging to a slim 30-29 lead early in the second half, Ohio State started a 12-0 run sparked by a put-back slam by Trey McDonald. Freshman Marc Loving, who went scoreless in the Buckeyes' last four games, scored eight straight points to open up a 42-29 lead with 5:25 remaining in the game. "We needed a little spark off the bench, and seeing one go in relieved a lot of pressure," Loving said. "My teammates had my back during my struggles, and they were looking for me. I took the open opportunities, and they went down." By the time Illinois' snapped its scoreless streak – which spanned 8:32 – with a three from Rayvonte Rice, it was too late for an Illini that turned the ball over on six of 10 possession during the run to ever really threaten the Buckeyes. "We have to have a side of the ball that we can rely on, and for us it has to be the defensive side of the ball," senior Aaron Craft said. "I think in the past we have missed shots and we allowed it to tie into our defensive mindset. We need to tighten up when we're not making shots, and we did that." Rice, who came into the game the Big Ten's sixth-best scorer, hit a layup with 58 seconds remaining to get the Illini within six. After being held scoreless in the Illini's loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus earlier this season, he finished with 11. Ohio State, though, hit free throws down the stretch to close out the game. Craft led the Buckeyes with 14 points, Ross finished with nine and Loving added eight, all of which came during the game-deciding run. "It was big to get that from Marc," Craft said. "He has been doing that in practice all year, so we had faith in him. It was nice to see him come through for us when we needed him."
Ohio State overcomes another poor shooting performance to steal 48-39 win at Illinois
Cleveland Plain Dealer | Feb 16