With streak in past, Ohio State hopes to build on momentum at Illinois

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

The streak is over. The weight has been lifted.

Now, the ordinary pressures of life on the road in the Big Ten can reclaim center stage for Ohio State. After Saturday’s 16-point home win against Iowa snapped a five-game losing streak, the Buckeyes will continue conference play Tuesday night against an Illinois team fresh off having absorbed a 15-point beatdown on its home court five days prior at the hands of suddenly surging Indiana.

For Ohio State to return home with a winning streak, it will have to do a lot of the same things it did while trying to dig out of its losing streak.

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“You don’t want to make too much of one game,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “The reality is there were some stretches of really good play during the losing streak and also some stretches of poor play, certainly. The games that went down to the last four minutes, almost all of them, were games we just needed to do some things a little better. That’s been our focus in trying to correct some of those things.”

By the end, it was evident that the losing streak was weighing on the Buckeyes. No team in program history had lost five straight games by single digits, and as Ohio State stumbled its way to a 63-60 loss at Nebraska last Wednesday, Holtmann said the Buckeyes “looked like a heavy-hearted team” during the loss to the Cornhuskers.

Against Iowa, Holtmann juggled the starting lineup, got significant contributions from multiple players who had been scuffling and by the end was able to celebrate a win with the students who packed the Nuthouse cheering section. For the moment, the entire afternoon bordered on cathartic for the Buckeyes, who said afterward they felt that just one win could open the floodgates on the rest of the season.

That’ll be put to the test Tuesday night.

“We can’t get complacent,” fourth-year wing Tanner Holden said. “After the win against Iowa it was like, ‘Whew, it feels good to finally get back in the win column,’ but we can’t be satisfied with just one win. We’ve got to keep building.”

Zed Key injury update for Ohio State vs. Illinois

Ohio State might be shorthanded against Illinois. Third-year center Zed Key, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds against the Hawkeyes, had to leave the game in the final minute when he dunked the ball for the game’s final points but collapsed to the court while grabbing his left knee. Key, who missed one game with a left shoulder sprain, made his way to the locker room with some assistance.

Jan 21, 2023; Columbus, OH, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes guard Isaac Likekele (13) and forward Zed Key (23) laugh in between play during the first half of the NCAA division I men’s basketball game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Value City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Scheller-The Columbus Dispatch

He’s likely to play against the Illini, but Holtmann described Key as “day to day” on Monday afternoon.

“No real update other than the knee has responded well to some of the treatment that our medical staff has done,” he said. “We do not expect it to be a long-term injury of any type.”

Ohio State lineup shakeup moving forward

Freshman Roddy Gayle made his first start in the Iowa game in place of Sean McNeil, who had a dental emergency during the days leading into the game, but it wasn’t the only change to the lineup. After committing four turnovers in each of the prior two games and scoring 11 points on 4 of 17 shooting, sixth-year forward and team captain Justice Sueing came off the bench for the first time during his two healthy seasons with the program and was replaced by fifth-year Oklahoma State graduate transfer Isaac Likekele.

Holtmann said the decision rested primarily with Likekele’s ability to match up with Iowa’s Kris Murray, the Big Ten’s leading scorer who is listed at 6-8, 220 pounds. It’s possible he remains in the lineup in place of Sueing, who still played 28:59 off the bench, and draws the defensive task of combating Illinois’ Terrance Shannon. The Texas Tech transfer stands 6-6, 225 pounds and leads Illinois at 18.1 points per game while grabbing 5.5 rebounds.

“I think he’s the most athletic player in our league,” Holtmann said of Shannon. “He’s certainly one of the most talented. He’s a tremendous talent. Isaac’s ability to make those guys work will be important, but it just won’t be on him. It’ll be on a number of guys, Roddy and some other guys.”


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