That’s a wrap on the best conference season for Illinois since 2004-05.
Illinois got revenge for its Jan. 16 loss at home against Ohio State with a 73-68 victory at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio, that all but solidifies a 1-seed for the Illini. At 16-4, they now have the most conference wins in a season in program history.
With a minute and a half to go, Da’Monte Williams drilled a three to tie it at 68, and Ayo Dosunmu’s and-1 with 44 seconds to go shut the door on a Buckeye win.
The most significant storyline of the day was obviously All-Amercian Ayo Dosunmu’s return to the starting lineup. Illinois’ superstar had been out with a broken nose and a concussion since the team’s last loss at Michigan State on Feb. 23. His absence didn’t prove to be too much of an issue, however.
Winners of four straight including the last three on the road at No. 23 Wisconsin, No. 2 Michigan and No. 7 Ohio State, the Illini enter the postseason playing arguably their best basketball of the year.
Illinois got its big man established early. Eighteen of the team’s first 21 points came in the paint with the lone exception being an Andre Curbelo trey and 30 of the team’s 41 in the first half. Kofi Cockburn was responsible for a third of those 30 on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. But Ohio State’s backcourt of Duane Washington Jr. and Justice Sueing helped the Buckeyes keep pace with 20 of their 37 at the half.
About midway through the first frame, the Illini’s All-American finally started to settle back in. Dosunmu quickly recorded 11 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting. Despite cashing in on over 62% of its attempts, Illinois only held a 41-37 edge at the break.
The Buckeyes carried over an 11-0 run from the first half to take their first lead, 43-41, 2.5 minutes into the second half. Andre Curbelo led the way for the Illini, pouring in 00.
Cockburn was sidelined with his 4th foul with nearly 7 minutes to go and the Buckeyes mounted a 4-point lead.
E.J. Liddell has been Illinois’ kryptonite each of the past two years, though, and Saturday afternoon was no different. The former Mr. Basketball posted 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting and 3-of-7 from behind the arc. As the Illini tried to close a two-possession lead with under five to go, it was Liddell that stepped up and hit big shots for the Buckeyes, but it wasn’t enough and Illinois escaped with a 73-68 win.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
*Insert Batman quote*
TWEET OF THE GAME
when your favorite amateur basketball team is good again so Dickie V is calling their games pic.twitter.com/LVfjxOmOc7— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) March 6, 2021
We don’t know yet! Illinois will play as the No. 2 seed Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, but the seeds aren’t set. The Illini will take on the winner of the 10/7-seed game at 5:30 p.m. CT and will be aired on Big Ten Network.