Champaign, IL (Sports Network) - A pair of nationally-ranked foes in the Big Ten Conference get after each other on Saturday afternoon, as No. 8 Ohio State pays a visit to No. 11 Illinois.
Ohio State recently opened its 101st season of Big Ten competition with a 70-44 rout of visiting Nebraska on Wednesday night. The win was the second in a row and the seventh in the last eight games for the Buckeyes, who wrapped up a season-long, eight-game homestand with the triumph. OSU will play only three home games between now and Feb. 10, hitting the road six times in that span.
Illinois has made the early portion of John Groce's first season at the helm a memorable one, as the team brings a 13-2 record into this clash. The Fighting Illini opened the campaign with 12 straight wins, but the team has come back to Earth of late, dropping two of its last three, including the league lidlifter at Purdue on Wednesday, 68-61. Both losses have come on the road, meaning UI is a perfect 7-0 at home this season.
Illinois owns a 100-65 lead in the all-time series, but Ohio State has won four of the last six and 11 of the last 14 meetings. When both teams come in ranked in the Top-25, the series is even at 5-5. The last time they both came in as members of the top-11 was back in 1963, when No. 3 Illinois knocked off No. 4 Ohio State in Champaign, 90-78.
Deshaun Thomas scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in leading Ohio State to an easy win over Nebraska on Wednesday night. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. drained five 3-pointers en route to 17 points, and he pulled down six boards as well for the Buckeyes who shot nearly 50 percent from the field while holding the Cornhuskers to 30.4 percent efficiency. OSU easily won the rebounding battle, 43-32, and was guilty of only nine turnovers. The Buckeyes wound up going just 5-of-13 from the free throw line, which came on the heels of a dismal 13-of-27 showing in their previous win over Chicago State. Thomas continues to make his case for Big Ten Player of the Year honors as he is averaging 19.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, while knocking down better than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Smith, Jr. (11.6 ppg) is the only other double-digit scorer for the Buckeyes, who hold substantial advantages in scoring (21.2), rebounding (8.1) and turnover margin (4.8).
Poor shooting was the culprit for Illinois in its league-opening loss at Purdue, as the visitors made good on only 35.6 percent of their field goal attempts in scoring a season-low 61 points. Backcourt mates Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams combined for 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, but they were also credited with seven of the team's 10 turnovers. Joseph Bertrand came off the bench to chip in 14 points, and the Illini knocked down 10-of-26 3-point tries, with Paul being credited with four treys. The Boilermakers won the rebounding battle (45-35), and doubled up the Illini with regard to points in the paint (36-18). Paul (18.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.5 apg), Abrams (12.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg) and D.J. Richardson (10.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) are all averaging double figures in the scoring column for UI, which puts up 75.9 ppg in hitting 43.9 percent of its total shots, which includes a 37.0 percent effort from beyond the arc. On defense, the Illini are yielding 65.3 ppg, and they goad the opposition into just over 15 turnovers per outing.