After losing two out of its previous three games, it seemed as if the sky was falling around the Ohio State men’s basketball team. While the Buckeyes certainly have their flaws, one only needs to look at Illinois to realize that it could be much worse.
After falling to the Scarlet and Gray Tuesday 83-67, the Illini have lost nine of their last ten games, including an embarrassing shellacking at the hands of a terrible Nebraska team. Furthermore, head coach Bruce Weber is on the hottest of hot seats, and the team’s tournament hopes continue to fade away. Props to the Buckeye Nuthouse for changing the traditional I-L-L I-N-I chant to I-L-L N-I-T late in the game.
Given all this, Tuesday’s game probably said more about Illinois than Ohio State, but it was still just what the doctor ordered for the Bucks. Basically, the home game against a struggling opponent served as some proverbial chicken noodle soup for the under the weather Buckeye basketball team. After successfully finding every square inch of the rims at Michigan Saturday, Ohio State once again discovered the bottom of the net Tuesday behind 65 percent shooting.
In a fairly balanced scoring attack, Deshaun Thomas led the way with 19 points, William Buford chipped in 17, Aaron Craft added 11, and Jared Sullinger tacked on nine before fouling out. Perhaps more importantly, Brandon Paul – who scored a meager 43 points last time the Buckeyes battled Illinois – only managed nine this time, as Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Craft constantly harassed the Illini’s leading scorer.
Before all the fans at the packed Schott could even find their seats (including this graduate student with night class), the Bucks jumped out to a 28-8 lead. However, the main difference between this game and the Minnesota game – where Ohio State also enjoyed a blazing start – was the fact that the Illini were never able to crawl back into the game. Whenever Illinois even came within sniffing distance of cutting the lead to single digits, Thad Matta’s bunch answered with a spurt of its own.
The handwringing among Buckeye Nation regarding both Buford’s recent woes and the lack of playing time for the bench can stop, at least for a day. Despite the audible groans when Buford missed an open three and turned it over in first half, the senior was greeted with an overall warm reception and had one of his best shooting games of the year (7-9 from the field, 2-3 from three). As for the bench, 13 players saw action, including LaQuinton Ross, who impressed with his cuts through the lane and finishing ability. It’s disappointing that he missed so much time early because there is clearly a ton of raw talent there.
In other news, in honor of the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s trip to space, Sam Thompson put on an anti-gravity display with an early dunk and a couple of high-flying blocks.
The only real concern regarding Tuesday night’s contest was the fact that Sully was nonexistent in the scoring department for most of the game. The glass half full approach to this would state that the team won convincingly without much scoring help from its best player, while the glass half empty approach would worry about the big man’s growing frustration. Much of that is probably stemming from the realization that on one end of the court Sully serves as the tackling dummy for the opposition’s defense, while on the other end he is constantly served with a whistle if he even breathes on his man.
Overall, it was good to see the Buckeyes take advantage of the home court in a must win game. The weekend clash against the Wisconsin Whiners will probably say more about where this team stands in the big picture. Stay tuned.