While all of Columbus was still buzzing about the Buckeyes' win to propel their football team into the national championship, there was a basketball game to be played at Value City Arena. The Illini got out to a quick start while the crowd was still seduced from Urban Meyer's pep talk and were on fire from deep. They hit six of their first eleven three-pointers and held a 34-26 lead over the Ohio State with five minutes to go in the first half. But Ohio State began to crawl back into it as Sam Thompson, their outstanding senior forward, hit several late jumpers to cut the lead to two. Despite allowing a 10-1 Buckeyes run to end the half, the Illini still charged into the locker room with a one-point lead.
And then Illinois suffered an epic collapse. Ohio State went on a 17-3 run after the game was tied at 41 points a piece early in the second half. That streak included multiple wide-open D'Angelo Russell three's that he drained, as well as some fancy dunks that resulted from bad Illinois turnovers. The Illini have now lost six straight games in Columbus. There isn't much to say about the second half of this game that hasn't already been said at some point this season, so I'll let these tweets take you through it:
The #Illini have fallen off the bubble. There may be no need for worrying in March because our fate will already be sealed.— Chris Yates (@CPY87) January 3, 2015
Big L at OSU doesn't bother me nearly as much as the bad L at UM. But both are L's and it's already red alert time for #Illini's NCAA hopes.— Dave Wischnowsky (@wischlist) January 3, 2015
January swoooooooooooooon— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 3, 2015
1 point half time lead to a blowout loss.On the 10 year anniversary season of the 04-05 Illini team,THIS is what we have become. #sad— Illini-Nation (@IlliniNationNet) January 3, 2015
3 Things We Learned:
1. It's The Same Story Every Time
Might as well just copy and paste it. The Illini don't know how to put a good second half together. Mistakes upon mistakes lead to double-digit losses that were once eight-point leads. Don't believe me? Let's take a look:
|Game||Illini Lead in 2nd Half||Final Score|
|@ Miami (FL)||48-46 with 9:59 to go||MIA wins by 9|
|vs. Villanova||50-50 with 8:32 to go||VILL wins by 14|
|vs. Oregon||46-41 with 14:56 to go||ORE wins by 7|
|@ Michigan||48-35 with 11:05 to go||MICH wins by 8|
|@ Ohio State||44-41 with 16:04 to go||OSU wins by 16|
It's really unfortunate how sloppy this team has looked down the stretch of games, because at least three out of those fives games could've been wins. I don't want to play the "what if" game because the way this team has played is inexcusable. Turnovers, bad shots, ridiculous fouls, you name it. But we could be looking at this season a very different way if John Groce's squad knew how to close out a ballgame. I didn't expect the team to emerge from Columbus with a victory today, but it's the way the team has looked that's concerning me...
"I'm not mad that we lost to a ranked team on the road, I'm mad about how we lost" Seems to be a reoccurring theme this season.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 3, 2015
2. This Team Needs Someone To Step Up
As the Buckeyes were in the midst of their 25-4 run to blow this game wide open in the second half, the Illini had to look to somebody to try and calm themselves down. And there was nobody there. This team is laden with junior and senior leaders. The captains, Ahmad Starks, Nnanna Egwu, and Rayvonte Rice, did nothing to try and control this game from getting too far out of hand. Someone needs to take this bull by the horns and at least try to right the ship. Taylor Rooks, a BTN reporter and former Illinois student herself, said it best during the game:
Illinois has already decided they lost the game, and that's the problem.— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) January 3, 2015
3. The Turnover Numbers Have Gotten Much Worse
Last year the Illini were one of the top 25 teams in the country in turnover numbers. Two years ago they were ranked even higher. They rarely had a game where they committed more than ten or twelve turnovers. Today they had twenty. That's right, twenty turnovers. Compared to only thirteen assists. That is almost a 2:1 turnover-to-assist ratio, and that is downright horrible. But the worst part (yes, it gets worse) about the troublesome amount of turnovers-per-game is that hardly any of them are forced. The Buckeyes went with a 2-3 zone for the first half but then changed it up to a man-to-man defense in the second half. I would wager that half of Illinois' double-digit turnovers today were unforced. Whether it was a bad pass or a dumb double-dribble, the Illini were shooting themselves in the foot over and over again today, and that's unfortunately been a developing theme all season long.