Supporting EJ Liddell the pitch and flexing, his eyes turned directly to Giorgi Bezanishvili who decided to tweet him a little earlier in their Saturday afternoon clash in Champaign, Illinois.
The bucket in paint – who appeared to be hacked but didn’t make a mistake – gave EJ Liddell a new career level in scoring and placed No. 21 Ohio ahead of No. 14 in Illinois by 14 points with just under 10 minutes remaining. Illini, chosen in the pre-season to win the Big Ten, did what they could by increasing their Forced Coup rate and getting Kofi Cockburn to attack glass. However, Buckeyes’ team refused to allow the game to run away.
Despite entering the day as underdogs on the road with seven points, Ohio State secured an 87-81 win in Illinois to extend their winning streak to three games. He improved his record to 11-3 in the season and 5-3 in the Big Ten.
3-pointers from Illinois goalkeeper Jacob Grandison cut Buckeye’s lead to five with 1:30 remaining. After one free throw for Justice Swing and a Cockburn throw, Ohio’s lead became four points with 48 seconds remaining, then Ellen started foul. They went back and forth, each of them going to the streak several times down the span before Buckeyes secured victory.
Liddell finished the match on 26 points, earning 3 more on Saturday – four – than he had scored in his first 13 games of the season. Seth Towns tied their season high with 11 points. Justin Arens added 11 points too, which included a hat-trick in the 3s second half when Ohio State needed him.
Dosunmu, the All-American First Team Candidate, led Illini with 22 points to line up with his five assists and four boards. Ohio State and Center Kofi Cockburn had him work their buckets all afternoon. Cockburn made every shot of the field, scoring 15 points and 11 team high boards.
Ohio knocked out the shooting gate, with five points from Liddell, resulting in a visitor’s lead by eight points in two and a half minutes. Although Illinois struggled to tie it up, leading to a 15–15 draw just over seven minutes into the match, Buckeyes’ team had another spark.
A pair of Justice Sueing free throws kicked off at the 7:31 mark of the first half in a 15-0 run that included a mid-range jump from Towns on the bounce, Meechie Johnson 3 and straight-line eight points from Liddell who capped 3 consecutive fury to put Ohio State ahead, 30-15, only halfway through the first half.
Illinois could not close the gap before the end of the first half, having scored 13 points in the last 12 minutes.
The two areas that helped Buckeyes in the first 20 minutes were outdoor shooting and glass work – both of which were Illini’s strengths. They went 7-to-11 from behind the 3-point arc in the first half. Liddell matched his season a total of three times in the 3s in the first 11 minutes of the game, and Townes added a pair of triples. Ohio also maintained the 20-11 advantage in the recoil division, which included the 6-3 advantage in offensive boards. This resulted in eight first-half second chance points for Ohio compared to zero for Illinois.
Next: Buckeyes returns to Columbus to face Purdue at 6:30 pm Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center for the second time this season after losing 67-60 in West Lafayette on December 16th.
The only veteran team goalkeepers – CJ Walker and Jimmy Sotos – remained unavailable due to injuries. Walker has a torn ligament in his right hand, and Sotos suffers a shoulder injury. The estimated date of their return is still unknown.
Ohio has not changed its fifth debut. Chris Holtman met again with Duan Washington Jr., Judge Swing, Justin Ariens, EJ Liddell, and Kyle Young.
Ibrahima Diallo (sprained MCL) will also come out for the foreseeable future. It does not exercise.