CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – A career-high 26 points from E.J. Liddell was enough as No. 21 Ohio State fought off a late rally by No. 14 Illinois and defeated the Illini Saturday, 87-81, at the State Farm Center in Champaign. The Buckeyes, winners of three-consecutive games, improved to 11-3 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten Conference play while Illinois is now 9-5, 5-3.
“Players win games and I’m really proud of our guys’ effort today,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “They made the plays throughout the game and down the stretch.”
Ahead by as many as 18 points early in the second half, Ohio State saw Illinois cut the lead to just five points, 77-72, with 1:30 remaining. From there, however, the Buckeyes were able to win the game at the free throw line, going 10 of 12 to salt the game away.
In addition to the 26 points and five rebounds from Liddell, the trio of Duane Washington Jr., Seth Towns and Justin Ahrens each contributed 11 points. Justice Sueing had nine points and seven rebounds while Zed Key provided a lift off the bench, finishing with eight points and four rebounds and 13 minutes of action.
Ohio State built a 43-28 lead at the half behind a couple of scoring runs and some hot shooting from 3-point range.
After the Illini opened the game scoring with an inside bucket, Ohio State went on a 10-run behind five from Liddell and later built a 37-19 lead with a 22-4 run to head into the locker room at the break leading by 15.
Liddell made 5-8 from the field including a career-best three made 3-pointers (3-5) over the first 20 minutes.
As a team, the Buckeyes connected on 7-of-11 from long distance in the opening half and on 17-of-32 shots from the field overall (53%).
Key held his own inside against Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn with six points and four boards in relief of Liddell inside. The Buckeyes held a 20-11 rebounding edge at the half with Key and Sueing pacing the Buckeyes with four each.
Ohio State is back in action at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday vs. Purdue in Columbus. The game, originally scheduled for Jan. 27, was rescheduled by the Big Ten Conference last week.
🔊 Holtmann Postgame Comments
— Ohio State Buckeyes 🌰 (@OhioStAthletics) January 16, 2021