Five Things We Learned from the Second Win over Illinois
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a quick turnaround for Ohio State on Tuesday as they took the court just two days after their loss at Purdue.
Like they did after the Wisconsin loss, the Buckeyes responded with a big win at home over a talented—but underperforming—Big Ten opponent. William Buford scored 17 points in the first half and David Lighty had 17 of a game-high 21 in the second half as OSU beat Illinois 89-70.
We take a look at the five things we learned from Ohio State’s second win over the Fighting Illini.
1. Ohio State was feeling the hangover of a quick turnaround. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the final score, but the Buckeyes were still feeling the effects of Sunday’s game at Purdue in their Tuesday night matchup with Illinois. They won the game by 19 points, but Thad Matta said afterward that his players were too sore to even practice Monday after the physical game in West Lafayette. Aaron Craft in particular came up to Matta and told him how sore he was Monday, but that didn’t stop him from having 12 points and six assists against the Illini.
So where’s the catch? As well as they played Tuesday night, the Buckeyes were noticeably a step slow during certain stages of the game. In the first half it was closing out on shooters at the three-point line. Some of the makes for Illinois were just good shots, but there were a few where Ohio State just didn’t get out quickly enough. In the second half it was boxing out on the defensive end. The Illini had seven of their nine offensive rebounds in the second half, but the Buckeyes should be much more rested Sunday against Indiana.
2. Illinois has mailed it in. It was almost sad to watch Illinois play Tuesday night. This was a team that was supposed to compete for the Big Ten title this year. They had nearly their entire roster back from last season, including seniors Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. They added a talented freshman in Jereme Richmond, but things have not gone well for Bruce Weber’s team.
McCamey came off the bench Tuesday, and although Weber said it was McCamay's decision, it’s hard to believe there isn’t something else going on there. Weber did everything but call his star out directly by saying that the reason his team hasn’t been good this season is that they lack a tough leader like David Lighty. They are now under .500 in the Big Ten and have already lost games to Northwestern, Penn State and Indiana. They play uninspired basketball and they just seem to go through the motions. If not for their hot outside shooting in the first half, they would have lost this game by 30.
3. David Lighty has the ability to take over games. Because of how bad he has looked recently, many people forgot what it looks like when David Lighty takes over a basketball game. They were reminded Tuesday when the fifth-year senior took complete control of the second half. He scored 13 points in less than three minutes and broke the will of the Fighting Illini. He scored inside, outside, big dunks and made his free throws on his way to 21 points. If he could play at half that level every night, the Buckeyes would be borderline impossible to beat.
4. Jon Diebler is more determined to put the ball on the floor. If it were up to Jon Diebler, he would just stand out at the arc and bomb threes all game. He is the all-time leader in Big Ten history, but that means opponents are going to gameplan to make sure he can’t get off easy shots. Diebler has done a good job of not forcing bad ones this year, but this team needs him to score. A guy with his offensive ability should not disappear from a game completely just because a defender is shadowing him wherever he goes.
One of the best ways for Diebler to free up some space is by putting the ball on the floor. He did that a number of times Tuesday and it’s starting to work for him. He’s never going to be a great finisher at the rim, but if he can get inside and draw fouls, Diebler is an outstanding free throw shooter. Another way this will help him is that defenders can’t completely sell out on his outside shot. Obviously they are never going to play him as a penetrating guard, but taking it off the bounce every now and then might keep them honest a half second longer. For Diebler, that’s a lot of time.
5. The Buckeyes need Deshaun Thomas. I was rather hard on Deshaun in my last Five Things, not because his talent isn’t there but because he simply wasn’t in a place to help the team. Tuesday’s game may have gone a long way in helping that. Thomas played only nine minutes off the bench, but he had a stretch where he scored six straight points for the Buckeyes. He connected on an open three, but his second basket was even more impressive. Thomas grabbed an offensive rebound, went back up for the strong putback and drew the foul. He hit the free throw, and in the process may have really given himself the confidence boost he needed. Thomas is confident in his abilities, but it’s one thing to do it in practice and another to do it against Illinois in late February. The Buckeyes will need him come tournament time.
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