CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – When Ohio State was stopping 7-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale early in the game, Illinois coach Bruce Weber pulled him.
That was a point where last season’s 16-19 edition of the Illini might have fallen apart. Stop one weapon and they didn’t have an answer.
Not so far this season, and certainly not Tuesday night against the Buckeyes.
Weber plugged in forward Dominique Keller and watched him score 12 points in a 67-49 victory over Ohio State. And he saw Tisdale, who found his touch in the second half, score 15 points. Then there were the 13 points from Demetri McCamey, and the 10 for Chester Frazier.
“This year’s team is much more together,” Tisdale said. “No one cares who scores and everybody just wants to win.”
The 25th-ranked Illini (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten) moved into The Associated Press’ rankings this week for the first time since the final poll of 2005-06.
B.J. Mullens had 14 points for the Buckeyes (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten), who had won three straight, and freshman William Buford had 13. Ohio State coach Thad Matta credited Illinois for its tough defense that led to 19 turnovers and held the Buckeyes to 41 percent shooting.
But he also said his team wasn’t ready to play.
“They did a tremendous job of taking us out of a lot of what we wanted to do,” he said. “We didn’t have the energy or whatever to be in this game tonight. In college basketball you can’t be high or too low and have to be ready to play.”
Illinois took the lead for good in the opening 5 minutes and then sealed the win with a 22-9 run in the second half.
The Buckeyes missed five straight shots from the field and committed six turnovers in a 6-minute span in the first half as Illinois turned a 13-9 lead into a 21-12 advantage. Keller scored six points in the run.
Weber put Keller into the game for Tisdale, who, at 235 pounds, struggled with 6-8, 255-pound Ohio State forward Dallas Lauderdale.
Keller, more solidly built at 6-8 and 230 pounds than the lanky Tisdale, proved a physical match for Lauderdale, who finished with five points and five boards.
“I had watched film with Coach yesterday and saw where some of the cracks in their zone were,” Keller said. “I tried to stay weak side and then flash to the middle and try to get a quick shot off. When I got in it was exactly how I saw it on film and I was able to get open and was able to get three quick baskets.”
And when Keller, who had six rebounds, cooled off offensively, Tisdale found his touch.
The sophomore scored all but four of his points in the second half.
The Buckeyes opened the half with a 6-0 run that temporarily quieted the Assembly Hall crowd.
That’s when Tisdale came to life.
He hit a soft hook shot over Lauderdale with 16:23 left that put Illinois up 43-30, then added another four points over the next 2 minutes.
Weber said the Illini, who are tied for second in the Big Ten with Minnesota behind Michigan State, are still a big road win from being a serious conference contender.
“We have to get another road win and take care of business at home,” he said. “Right now we have to worry about (Wisconsin). It’s going to be really tough.”