Year in Review: Oh, Buck; Illini defeated

By Ian Gold

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It would take a team of Herculean proportions to take out Illinois’ three-headed backcourt monster and avoid having one head grow back in its place, a la forward Jack Ingram against Wisconsin. Sunday the blade fell and took out the entire team, as Ohio State defeated the Illini 65-64.

“I said at the first press conference, we are going to lose one game or another, and I guess I was right,” head coach Bruce Weber said.

The lead changed hands only once during the game. With eight seconds remaining in the second half, Ohio State forward Matt Sylvester buried a three and put his Buckeyes up by one. Illinois failed to get a better shot than a Roger Powell Jr. 23-footer in the last second.

“I just felt confident today and forced myself upon the game,” Sylvester said. “What a day, it feels like a dream, like I’m about to wake up and find this never happened.”

Until 10 minutes into the second half, this game resembled a typical Illinois road game: survive and get the win, period. Whenever Ohio State looked like it was within striking distance, it couldn’t find the big play. To beat the undisputed No. 1 team, those tide-changing buckets need to be converted.

Except when the No. 1 team can’t seem to put its act together. Illinois shot 38 percent from the field, 26 percent from three-point range.

“I think for the first time in a long time we took some questionable shots and didn’t make the extra pass,” Weber said. “We didn’t execute great down the stretch; our guards have carried us all year and offensively they didn’t get much done. I guess we expect so much out of those guys every game, and they just didn’t live up to it today.”

While Illinois was searching for its rhythm, Ohio State coach Thad Matta put it inside to Sylvester and forward Terrance Dials early and often. The pair finished the game with 25 and 21 points, respectively.

Matta, whose Xavier team gave St. Joseph its first loss of the season last year in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, made the game meticulous. Ohio State was getting the ball to the hot hands and did not commit one turnover in the second half.

“We didn’t get it done on the defensive end,” Weber said. “We did well with the pressure early, but then maybe we backed off.”

Illinois had numerous opportunities to shake off the Buckeyes down the stretch, but no combination of five players on the court could find the fluidity that had carried the team all season.

“Some guys were looking to others to make the big plays, and others were forcing their game,” Ingram said.

After time had run out on the undefeated season and the ball had finally dropped to the floor, the crowd rushed the court to celebrate the upset as Illinois slowly left the court.

“I told them before the game, it’s not life or death. I just wished they would compete and have some pride,” Weber said. “Everyone was telling us that we needed to lose; I hope they’re right.”