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Illinois falls short to Ohio State in Chicago, 77-67

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The Illini fall to 0-2 in conference play.

Brad Repplinger - The Champaign Room

CHICAGO — Some things just never change, even in Chicago.

In their second conference game of the year and unofficial home-opener, Illinois couldn’t hang on to upset the Ohio State Buckeyes on Wednesday night at the United Center, folding 77-67.

Kipper Nichols on what it takes to finish close games:
“40 minutes of basketball. Focusing on the details. At certain points our effort was outstanding. If we do that for 40 minutes, I think we give ourselves a chance to win a lot of games.”

I’m not sure many had faith in Illinois to keep this one close except Vegas. The Illini were 5-point underdogs on paper, and after dropping their conference-opener to Nebraska on Sunday, the team was desperately searching for its first big win of the year. A strong finish to the first half put Head Coach Brad Underwood and the squad in a position to pull off the upset, but a lackluster second period put Illinois away for good. Looking ahead, the schedule eases up a bit, but Illinois is still yet to knock off a power five conference team.

Neither team got off to a hot start in the first half. The Buckeyes were limited to 34 percent shooting and the Illini weren’t any better. Ohio State was able to pull out to a slight lead with a 9-0 run midway through the first half, but when is on your team no lead is safe. The sophomore kept it close with 11 first-half points, and the Illini were able to retake the lead after Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann was given a technical for voicing his displeasure with a chase-down block. Illinois’ tempo and aggressiveness forced Ohio State out of its rhythm, allowing the Illini to capitalize on turnovers and close the half on a 16-4 run.

“I was really pleased with our first half,” Underwood said. “I thought for a 6-, 7-minute stretch there in the first half was as good as we’ve looked... We’re better when we’re aggressive. We don’t foul when we’re aggressive... Most of these fouls come in the silly variety.”

Illinois is not a second half team, and that’s no secret. The Illini held a 38-34 advantage at the break, but per usual, they couldn’t put together two halves. Just over four minutes into the second half, Illinois was stuck with six fouls, leaving Ohio State in the bonus for the remainder of the game. The Buckeyes manufactured a 13-2 run, finished almost 60 percent from the field in the second half compared to Illinois’ 28 percent, and outscored the Illini, 43-29.

“Give Illinois a lot of credit,” Ohio State Head Coach Chris Holtmann said. “They’re relentless in their attack both offensively and defensively. That’s the way Brad [Underwood’s] teams are. We have a lot of respect for Illinois... They’re going to be a great team to play against in the future.”

SOUND SMART

TWEET OF THE GAME

WHO’S NEXT

Illinois gets right back at it Saturday when it welcomes UNLV to Champaign. The Runnin’ Rebels (4-3) are down this year, and the Illini will get a good shot at picking up their third win of the season.

Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CT.