No. 13 Ohio State halts Illinois winning streak

Illini fans headed for the exits at the Assembly Hall early Sunday, as Illinois saw its five-game win streak snapped with a 72-53 loss to No. 13 Ohio State.

When Illinois (17-9, 9-4 Big Ten) and Ohio State (20-6, 10-3) took the court Sunday, the teams were locked in a three-way tie with Purdue for second place in the Big Ten, a half game behind Michigan State. But it was the Buckeyes who took advantage of the opportunity, moving into a tie for first place in the conference with the victory.

“I think it is a wake-up call for us,” junior guard Demetri McCamey said. “We had two big wins and they brought us back down and showed that we need to work and keep getting better if we want to do the things we want to do.”

The Buckeyes had the Illini on the ropes early, leading by as many as 20 in the first half. And the Ohio State offensive attack didn’t end there, as Illinois never got closer than 14 points in the second half.

“At first it was like, ‘All right guys, they jumped on us a little bit, let’s get going.’ And then they just kept raining threes in, and then it kind of just went downhill from there. They got us in a hole,” junior forward Bill Cole said.

“It’s not ideal to play in that comeback, hoist-up-shots offense, and then once we start doing that it goes even worse,” Cole added.

The Fighting Illini suffered from a quiet afternoon by their offensive leader, as McCamey didn’t score his first point until a free throw attempt near the end of the half. The guard finished the contest with just nine points, though he dished out a more typical nine assists.

Although head coach Bruce Weber admitted his point guard was hanging his head a bit by the end of the game, he didn’t think McCamey should take all the heat for his lower-than-normal point total.

“If guys make shots, then it makes him more effective because then defenses can’t key on him,” Weber said. “I think that’s a part of it.”

It was a different story for McCamey’s high school teammate, as Ohio State forward Evan Turner posted 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Joining Turner in double-digit scoring for the Buckeyes on the afternoon were junior guards David Lighty (17) and Jon Diebler (18), who had six 3-pointers.

Freshman guard D.J. Richardson drew the tough assignment of guarding Turner on the afternoon, and overall Weber was pleased with his effort.

“To be honest, I thought D.J. did a pretty good job on (Turner), never really let him get going,” Weber said. “We kept him under his average when you look at it. Maybe not assists-wise, but point-wise. So it’s the other guys that really made the difference.”

The Illinois offense was baffled by Ohio State’s zone defense, as no Illini scored in double figures. McCamey’s nine points led the way for the Illini, while three other juniors — center Mike Tisdale and forwards Cole and Mike Davis — each had eight.

“I don’t think they thought that we were going to be in the zone so much. But I think it definitely surprised them,” Turner said. “They tried to pick it apart a little bit and they did a pretty good job. But we were fortunate enough to get Mike Tisdale in foul trouble, so that’s one of their go-to guys.”

Struggling with the zone isn’t something Weber would have expected at the start of the season, as the offense responded well to the defensive style early on. But the Illini admitted they weren’t expecting as much zone from the Buckeyes on Sunday.

“That zone, I think it surprised us a little bit at first,” Cole said. “They just kicked out butt in every aspect after that, once they got up.”