CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – If Saturday was any indication, Ohio State might be hard pressed to hang on to their No. 1 ranking and undefeated status for long.
The 22nd-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini seemed on the verge of upsetting the top-ranked Buckeyes in the waning moments Saturday, but OSU hit the necessary foul shots down the stretch to hang on for a 73-68 win in front of a capacity crowd at Assembly Hall.
This was easily the most challenging Big Ten road test for the Buckeyes, who improved to 20-0 and 7-0, after trailing 34-33 at halftime and by as many as eight points in the second half. Illinois lost for the first time at home this season and dropped to 14-6, 4-3 coming off a big win over Michigan State last week.
Aaron Craft and William Buford converted four free throws in the final 15.2 seconds to hold off the Illini after a 3-pointer by center Mike Tisdale closed the game within one point with 16.8 remaining.
How It Was Won: Sullinger was dominant inside but this was won at the free throw line where the Buckeyes converted 24 of 27 free throws. Sullinger scored 13 of his game-high 27 points from the line where he was 13 of 15 for the day. Illinois shot just 10 foul shots and converted eight.
How It Was Lost: Mike Tisdale & Co. couldn't guard Sullinger inside without fouling him and it hurt. All of the Illini bigs were in foul trouble tr ying to defend Sullinger.
Key Stat: The Buckeyes converted nearly 91 percent from the free throw line for the game.
What we liked: Sullinger gets most of the headlines, but the Buckeyes are far from a one-dimensional team. David Lighty can hit big shots, but it was freshman guard Deshaun Thomas who came off the bench for a big game Saturday. He scored eight points in 12 minutes, which included going 2 for 2 from 3-point range.