The end result may not have been what fans were hoping for, but the Illinois Fighting Illini (8-7, 0-2) were pretty competitive in their narrow 75-73 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes (10-5, 2-0). Marc Loving (27 points) led all scorers on Sunday afternoon. Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Jalen Coleman-Lands, and Michael Finke each contributed 14 points of their own to lead Illinois.
Here's what we learned from the contest:
1. Illinois showed some toughness
Yes, it's true!
In a game that featured several runs by both teams, Illinois answered the bell just about every time Ohio State seemed to be pulling away. That's a welcome change from what we've seen in recent weeks, particularly during second halves. Not only that, but Illinois' defense looked visibly improved. In my opinion, it all started with Malcolm Hill's lockdown coverage of Jae'Sean Tate; the talented Buckeye sophomore only managed 6 points on 3/7 shooting from the field.
Unfortunately, Illinois' lack of a post presence really showed in this game as Ohio State won the rebounding battle 42-33. The Illini weren't generating many second-chance opportunities, and that played a huge role in the outcome.
2. Finke, Coleman-Lands stepped up when needed
Michael Finke and Jalen Coleman-Lands were two bright spots on Sunday. The two freshman combined for 28 points and 11 rebounds while performing very well down the stretch. Both Finke and Coleman-Lands still have a long way to go on the defensive end, but their offensive potentials are undeniably great.
3. Illinois will probably start 0-4 in Big Ten play
After dropping their first two games to Michigan and Ohio State, the road will only get tougher for Illinois as they'll face both Michigan State and Purdue in the next week. That isn't the best news considering they're two of the best three teams in the Big Ten.
Luckily for Illinois, the Spartans are expected to be without Denzel Valentine on Thursday night and Tom Izzo's squad hasn't exactly been that impressive without the senior forward in the lineup. But, let's be honest, the chances of the Illini winning three straight games in East Lansing are very slim.
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