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Illinois’ Big Ten title hopes are dead

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The Illini can’t clinch the double-bye Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the season’s final two games, Illinois controlled its own Big Ten Championship destiny. All the Illini had to do was win their contests at No. 19 Ohio State and then come home and beat No. 19 Iowa.

Illinois couldn’t pull it off.

Illinois started each half Thursday night at Value City Arena in Columbus with a lot of sloppy play, but a steady diet of Ayo Dosunmu, Andres Feliz and even Da’Monte Williams wasn’t enough for the Illini to win over the Buckeyes (21-9, 11-8 Big Ten). With the loss, Illinois failed to clinch a top-four seed and double-bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.

Three turnovers and four fouls in the first three minutes set the tone for a foul-prone night and gave a nice window for Ohio State to take the lead early. But as they did several times Thursday, the Illini (20-10, 12-7 Big Ten) responded, as a dunk and couple of free throws from Kofi Cockburn gave Illinois a solid 20-9 lead half way through the first half.

But the fouls returned and Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili picked up multiple fouls, two and three, respectively. Head coach Brad Underwood kept the two on the bench for the rest of the half and the Buckeyes started to pick up some steam.

Ohio State went on a 15-4 run with out the Illini bigs in the game to tie the game at 24. Ayo Dosunmu stepped up in the final seven minutes of the half and scored 11 points (finishing the half with 14) to take a 37-30 lead at half.

The second half was a similar story to the first. The Buckeyes, led by Kaleb Wesson, scored seven points of the gate to retake the lead at 40-39 by the first media timeout. Illinois stuck with Ohio State, but Cockburn was forced to the bench with his third foul, giving the Buckeyes a chance to keep up the momentum.

Illinois couldn’t handle the pressure on the defensive glass. Ohio State took advanbtage of the second chance opportunities that the Illini gifted to them. The Illini had to resort to the three in the final three minutes, but couldn’t get enough to fall, losing 71-63.

Moments that Mattered

OVER LIDDELL: While Ohio State made a few runs in the first half to counter Illinois’ foul troubles, Dosunmu was able to step up just about each time, including one late three over former Illini recruit E.J. Liddell.

Tweet of the Game

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Up Next

Illinois plays its final regular season game at State Farm Center against the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes. If Illinois wins, it clinches a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

The game will be broadcast on BTN at 6 p.m. CT.