For a moment Thursday night, Duane Washington Jr. was soaring and his Ohio State teammates were flying with him.
The Buckeyes trailed most of the game before the freshman guard took a pass from Andre Wesson, blazed down the court and threw down a momentous, two-handed dunk while being fouled. He did a little shimmy and hit the free throw to give Ohio State a one-point lead with 8:28 to play.
But like Washington on the rim, the Buckeyes couldn’t hang any longer.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
Kaleb Wesson fouled Ayo Dosunmu on the next possession, the freshman hit both free throws to reclaim the lead, and Ohio State never led again as Illinois stymied the Buckeyes defensively and hit enough key shots late in a 63-56 win at Value City Arena.
“We came out tonight and we weren’t prepared,” said junior forward Andre Wesson. “That’s on me and us older guys. We didn’t get the younger guys prepared, and that’s what happens. That’s how you get beat.”
Both teams came in winners of three straight and four of their last five. But Illinois (10-15, 6-8 Big Ten) led for 30:13 and Ohio State (16-8, 6-7) went 2 of 13 from three-point range.
It was the first true road win of the season for the Fighting Illini. Coach Brad Underwood said the foundation was laid Wednesday, when his players collectively decided to wear suits for the trip to signify that they meant business.
“I just think they made a few more plays, but give them credit,” a tight-lipped Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “We obviously have to play better.”
The loss gives the Buckeyes the first significant blemish on their NCAA Tournament resume. Under the NCAA's NET rankings, teams are slotted in quadrants based on their performances at home, on neutral courts and on the road, with more emphasis placed on road wins. This was Ohio State's first loss to a Quadrant 3 team.
Playing against the Big Ten’s best team at forcing turnovers, the Buckeyes committed 18. Senior guard C.J. Jackson, who at times seemed to be the only offensive threat for the Buckeyes and had 17 points, tied a career high with seven turnovers.
The Buckeyes never got over the hump.
Tied at 40 with 13:02 to play, the Buckeyes went the next 3:20 without scoring and fell behind by four. After Washington’s three-point play, they went 2:48 without a basket and fell behind by five. During the first half, the Buckeyes made just one field goal during a span of 9:48 as Illinois built a 27-19 lead and made only three shots in the final 13:15 of the half.
“They’re always in the passing lanes,” Wesson said of the Illinois defense. “It’s hard to reverse the ball and get to the other side, and that’s kind of what we predicate our offense on. It was hard for us to get in our offense.”