Bench Enables Buckeyes to Hold Off Illini
By John Porentas
Remember those old Western movies where the wagon train was under attack by Geronimo and the cavalry rode in just in time for the rescue? That was Thad Matta and the Buckeyes (20-6, 7-6 Big Ten) in their 48-39 win over hapless Illinois (14-12. 3-10 Big Ten).
Geronimo was no where near Assembly Hall last night, but Chief Illiniwek and his hoard of Illini were.
At the end of a poorly played half by both teams the Illini held 23-20 lead. You read that right, 23-20, 43 combined points from two Big Ten basketball teams. It wasn't much of a lead, but unless somebody rescued them, the Buckeyes hadn't shown much ability to save themselves from an embarrassing defeat to a team that is the bottom feeder in the Big Ten standings.
No cavalry unit showed up to rescue them, but Marc Loving and Amedeo Della Valle did, and the day was saved.
Loving has been mired in a horrendous shooting slump and had not made a field goal in a game since January 20. At the 9:58 mark of the second half Loving knocked down a jumper. It was just two points, but the slump was busted and the rescue was on. Loving went on to score six more points in the final 9:58 and to great degree helped the Buckeyes hold off the home-standing Illini. It was a sight for sore eyes for Matta.
“When that ball went through for him, I was just so excited,” said Matta.
“I talked with Marc (on Friday) after practice and said, ‘Man, it’s going to happen for you,’ and he said, ‘Coach, I just need to see the ball go through the basket.’ When that shot went down, you could just see literally a thousand pounds lifted off of him."
Loving was not the only Buckeye reserve on the rescue mission. Amedeo Della Valle also came off the bench to score five points in 17 minutes of play. It doesn't sound by much, but in game where the winner only scored 48, it's a big deal.
"They do it every day in practice," Aaron Craft told the Big Ten Network after the game. "If we're going to get better we need them to do in games."
"We rode those guys," added Matta. "They were making shots."
The contributions from Loving and Della Valle were important, but it's not like the starters were complete no-shows either. Aaron Craft scored a game-high 14 points and LaQuinton Ross chipped in nine.
What the Buckeyes lacked in offensive firepower they made for on the defensive end. OSU registered 10 steals and seven blocked shots to help thwart an already offensively-challenged Illinois team. Shannon Scott had five of those 10 steals and a game-high three assists. The Illini shot just 28 percent from the field. The Buckeyes weren't great from the field, but their 38 percent success rate from the floor looked good when compared to Illinois' weak shooting.
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