January 22, 2008

Good but not great

COLUMBUS - The road weary Buckeyes returned home after dropping three straight tough games on the road. Despite leading for more than 38 minutes on Tuesday night Ohio State watched a 15 point lead dwindle to three points and if not for a David Lighty (16 points, 4 boards) rebound off a Kosta Koufos (12 points 4 boards) missed free throw the outcome of the game could have taken on a whole new complexion. Luckily for the Bucks the ball bounced their way at the end and Ohio State (13-6, 4-2) snapped the losing streak with a 64-58 win over Illinois (9-11, 1-6).

"It was a great lesson in momentum for us," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "I think we did a decent job maintaining momentum but there is still more for us to work on."

The Buckeyes will need to work on hitting the offensive glass with the Illini nearly tripling up on Ohio State with a 17-6 margin.

"We definitely did not rebound well," Matta said. "Illinois had great plays, especially toward the end of the game. We are fortunate to have the win and now it is time for us to move on."

No Buckeye player had more than two offensive boards and the players seemed frustrated with the inability to pull in the loose balls. Why did the Bucks struggle so much?

"That's a good question," Lighty said. "We don't know and we just have to have a mentality of not letting them get the ball and being monsters on the board. It's just up to us."

The Bucks swept the series with the Illini after a 74-58 win in Champaign (Ill.) in January but this Illinois team had a different complexion with the absence of leading scorer and rebounder (12.9 points, 7.9 rebounds) Shaun Pruitt. The 6-foot-10 center had 12 points and eight rebounds in the first match-up. Weber said that Pruitt was held out of the game for an internal disciplinary reason but would not go into further details.

"It's a team matter, a family matter and it has been handled internally and we hope he has a positive attitude and we get him back involved with us because we need him," Weber said. "But we need him with a good positive attitude and that is what we are hoping he will do the rest of the week."

Ohio State knew that the Illinois offense could not be based on only one player and even with Pruitt out of the lineup that other players could step up.

"We were aware of him but I don't think we really just focused on one player really," Lighty said. "We just tried to break down their zone and what spots we thought they were going to try and attack."

The absence of Pruitt gave backup Rodney Alexander to see extended minutes and he made the most of his 24 minutes with a game high 20 points including three three-pointers.

Ohio State built the lead up to ten points twice in the first half and was led by Lighty's 11 points going to the locker room. Weber and the Illini knew that the sophomore guard would mean a lot to the Buckeye offense.

"(David) Lighty had struggled a little a bit and somebody told me before the game that he was the X-factor in the game and he probably was today," Weber said.

The Buckeyes would eventually stretch the lead out to 15 points on three separate occasions in the second half and seemed to have the game nearly put away with that 15 point lead and less than 6:30 left on the clock. The pesky Illini would not go away and as Illinois was hitting shots the Buckeyes were not as fortunate and were also giving up easy points from the charity stripe.

"I thought they fought hard and played hard and hats off to them for not giving up," Ohio State guard Evan Turner (14 points) said. "I also think it was part of us and I lost the ball a couple of times and we missed a couple of free throws and we missed a couple of key rebounds. They countered on that but we kept it together to finish off the game so that is what counts."

A Brian Randle (13 points, 10 boards) jumper at the 30 second mark cut the lead back down to three points at 61-58 and many of the fans who had gotten up to start heading for the exits had to turn around and check out the final stretch drive.

Koufos was fouled and sent to the line for a pair of free throws and if the big freshman could have hit one would have stretched it to a two score game but it was not meant to be with both shots falling off the rim. The play of the game came down to when Lighty was able to secure the second miss and give the Bucks another opportunity when Calvin Brock was forced to foul Lighty at the 27 second mark.

"I just tried to get a little physical," Lighty said. "It was a big rebound for us and they were only down three and would have had a chance to tie the game up or get it within one and I just got a rebound and it was a good play."

"It was a great play by David," Matta said. "What also helped was he made his free throws. It took a lot of pressure off of us because it turned it into a two possession game."

It was enough for Ohio State and the Buckeyes held on for the 64-58 win despite some tense moments. Did the Bucks feel that there was any "let-up" by the team once they were up 15 points?

"We kind of got a little loose with everything in our offense and our defense," Lighty said. "I think we got off our offense a little bit instead of running our things and trusting in the system. When we ran the system everything worked out fine for us."

Ohio State will have plenty to work on in preparing for the Golden Gophers who will invade Value City Arena on Saturday for an 8 p.m. tip off.

Stat leaders
Ohio State - Lighty 16, Turner 14, Koufos 12
Illinois - Alexander 20, Randle 13, Meachum 12

Ohio State - Butler 7, Hunter 4, Koufos 4, Lighty 4
Illinois - Alexander 11, Randle 10, Tisdale 3

Ohio State - Butler 4, Lighty 4
Illinois - Frazier 5, McCamey 3, Meachum 3

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