UNITED CENTER- The Illinois Fighting Illini (2-7, 0-2 Big Ten) made their annual United Center appearance on Wednesday night where they welcomed the Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1, 2-0) to the west side. The Illini were looking to not only end a two-game losing streak heading into this contest, but they were also looking to avenge last season’s United Center loss to New Mexico State. They were also pushing for their first Big Ten win of the season. Unfortunately that would not be the case as OSU would leave Chicago with a victory by the score of 77-67.
The game began with turnovers and missed shots but halfway through the first half, the Buckeyes would take control. But then Illinois would fight back. The Illini overcame a 30-22 first half deficit, and went on a 16-4 run to take a 38-34 halftime lead. Unfortunately Illinois would go ice cold in the second half. They would shoot just 29-percent over the last 30 minutes, and would be outscored 43-29 the rest of the way and have now lost three in-a-row.
“The start of the second half was a huge piece of (how this game ended). I was proud of our first half. Probably for a good, six, seven, eight minute stretch was as good as we’ve looked. It’s the way I envision us,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood in his post-game press conference.
The Buckeyes were led by senior guard Keyshawn Woods who finished with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting and had four rebounds. Sophomore guard Musa Jallow added 11 points, while sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson pitched in 13 points and seven boards. OSU has now won four of their last five games.
“That was a long game, and give Illinois a lot of credit. They are just relentless,” says Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann.
The Fighting Illini were led by sophomore guard Trent Frazier and junior forward Kipper Nichols who scored 18 points a piece. Frazier also had three assists and two steals, while Nichols added five rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot. Both men combined to make 12-of-27 shots from the floor. Five other players only contributed single-digit scoring efforts while the rest of the team was held scoreless.
“The game was decided in the first five minutes of the second half….. We were extremely passive, especially when guarding the ball,” Underwood said.
Illinois only made 19-of-58 field goals (33-percent), were outrebounded 38-34, converted just 6-of-19 three-point attempts, and have gone 2-3 in their last five trips to the United Center. There was also a scary moment early on when Trent Frazier had a hard fall underneath the basket. He was pulled from the game briefly, but returned to finish. Coach Underwood, however, stated that Fraizer was in a considerable about of pain after the game.
Now the Illini need to figure out how to turn this thing around. They’re 0-2 to start Big Ten play for the second straight year and need to avoid having another rough patch like last season when they finished with a conference record of 4-14.
“From these losses we’ve definitely learned a lot about ourselves,” said Kipper Nichols after the game.
Illinois will start the process of wrapping up the non-conference portion of their schedule when they return home to Champaign on Saturday to host UNLV.