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Illinois crumbles late against No. 12 Ohio State

The Illini blew a big second half lead against the Buckeyes.

TCR // Jack Jungmann

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Illini were on the cusp of an unforgettable night.

Illinois hosted No. 12 Ohio State Thursday night, welcoming in a Buckeye team that was riding high off a thrilling overtime upset against then-No. 2 Iowa.

As the clock wound down to its last seconds in the fourth quarter, the Illinois offense found Genesis Bryant for a missed three-pointer that would have cut Ohio State’s lead to four. Instead the shot sucked the life out of State Farm Center and effectively iced the game in a hard-fought 67-59 loss.

Illinois (8-10, 2-6 Big Ten) began the matchup with visible intensity, specifically on the defensive side of the ball as both teams struggled to put points on the board early.

Early on it looked like the Illini were poised to get their signature win.

Kendall Bostic had 12 rebounds in the first half as the Illini delivered a galvanizing second quarter, outscoring the Buckeyes 20-4. They went to the locker room with a 33-22 lead.

The Illini delivered a fine defensive effort, as they held the Buckeyes to 22 points in the first half. The Buckeyes (16-3, 7-1 Big Ten) came into the game averaging 82.6 points per game.

During the second quarter alone the Illini defense forced OSU into 4 turnovers during a run that saw the Buckeyes go scoreless for more than seven minutes.

“It’s what we do. It’s our identity, it’s what we’ve always done and I thought we did it (on defense) very consistently,” said head coach Shauna Green.

Although it looked like the game could have had a result reminiscent of last season’s Iowa upset, the Illini came out flat coming out of the locker room.

In the third quarter alone, the Illini turned over the ball 10 times, allowing Ohio State to find its rhythm as the Buckeyes responded with a 20-point quarter of their own. Buckeyes guard Jacy Sheldon had a monster second half, ending the game with 25 points.

“I really thought we were prepared and we knew it was coming, but, again, the execution piece,” Green said. “We’ve got to handle that third quarter better.”

It’s clear the Illini are at their best offensively when they are in the paint, but against OSU, Illinois failed to score on more than half of its shots inside the paint.

“We were 18-for-40 in shots in the paint,” Green said. “We just can’t miss those easy shots in this caliber of a game.”

Despite poor shooting Illinois was able to get plenty of second chance opportunities off missed OSU rebounds. It was a fast-paced game, as the Illini were clearly playing with more urgency.

And despite holding a three-point lead entering the fourth quarter — and a loud State Farm Center — Illinois was unable to stop the Buckeyes in the clutch.

Ohio State’s Cotie McMahon, who was coming off an impressive performance against Iowa, was able to dish out 17 points against the Illini defense.

In the fourth quarter the Illini fell victim to risky passes that ultimately led to giving away too many turnover. Illinois committed 21 turnovers all game — the Illini averaged less than 12 turnovers per game coming into the game.

Makira Cook and Genesis Bryant combined for 40 points, as Kendall Bostic finished the game with 18 rebounds.

The one that got away

If the Illini were going to get a marquee win, this was their opportunity. Illinois had momentum going into the second half, but ultimately fell flat.

“It sucks — it’s like the fifth game this season, we’re right there,” Bostic said.

This is not the first game Illinois has been close to edging out its opponent.

However, this game will likely sting the most as it came against a highly ranked conference opponent in a game they led by 11 points going into the second half, combined with the failed to execution on shots in the paint.

With 20 minutes left in the game there was an opportunity, to bring a thrilling win for the program, Illinois just did not finish.

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The Illini will now look ahead at the arrival of Minnesota, who is currently 4-4 in Big Ten play.

The matchup will be on Sunday at 2 p.m. and will be streamed on BTN+.