COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—There was no postgame party after beating Illinois this time. Ohio State still has other big games to play.
Jamar Butler scored 22 points, Terence Dials had 19 and 16 rebounds and Je’Kel Foster added 18 points to lead the 19th-ranked Buckeyes to a 69-53 victory over No. 10 Illinois on Sunday.
A year after ruining top-ranked Illinois’ perfect, 29-0 season on Matt Sylvester’s 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left, the Buckeyes relied on their outside shooting and Dials’ muscle inside to win their fourth straight game and remain in a virtual tie for first place in the Big Ten.
“There was jubilation in the locker room last year,” coach Thad Matta said. “This year we still have six games to play—and a lot of work to do.”
The Buckeyes (18-3, 7-3) hit 13-of-23 3-pointers three days after going 15-for-24 in a victory at No. 22 Michigan. It was the first time in five years Ohio State had beaten two ranked opponents in the same week.
Butler was 5-for-6 on 3-pointers and Foster was 6-for-8.
“Heck, we’ve got guys who don’t shoot free throws that well,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.
Dee Brown scored 12 points to lead Illinois (20-4, 6-4) but was stymied all day by Ohio State’s suffocating pressure. James Augustine added 11 points—all in the first half—and 13 rebounds.
In a matchup of the Big Ten’s top offensive (Ohio State) and defensive (Illinois) teams, the Buckeyes excelled at both ends. The Illini shot only 37 percent from the field and, despite a height advantage, were outrebounded 36-32.
“Our No. 1 goal was to try to impose our will on them,” Dials said.
After building an 11-point lead at the half, the Buckeyes didn’t vary from their approach in the opening minutes of the second half. Foster stole the ball on Illinois’ first possession by diving over the Illini bench and into the first row of fans, the ball going to Butler who pulled up to hit a 3 with two defenders between him and the basket and no teammate on his half of the court.
“That was one of those, ‘Uhhhhhh … great shot!”’ Matta said with a laugh.
The next time Ohio State had the ball, Butler made another.
“Butler hits two 3s and instead of getting down to single digits you’re down more,” Weber said. “Now it’s big numbers instead of whittling it down.”
The Buckeyes led 53-32 after Ron Lewis’ 3 at the 13:40 mark. But Illinois began to make headway with freshman Chester Frazier dogging Foster and frustrating him with his physical play.
Frazier hit two foul shots with 9:46 left to cap a 12-0 run—Brown scored five points, Frazier four and Rich McBride three—that cut the lead to 53-44 and quieted a raucous, capacity crowd.
Ohio State, dormant on offense for more than 4 minutes, responded with a 10-0 run that ended with Foster hitting a fallaway 3 from the right corner for a 16-point lead with 7 1/2 minutes left.
The Illini continued to attack but never could find a crack in the Buckeyes’ defense, with Butler shadowing Brown wherever he went. Brown hit just 5-of-13 field-goal attempts.
Weber called Butler the most improved player in the conference.
“He’s just in a groove right now,” Weber said.
Butler credited his off-season conditioning, along with lengthy shooting drills, for improving his game. He scored a career-high 20 at Michigan before topping that against the Illini.
“I’m just playing within our offense and taking the open shots,” he said.
Ohio State is tied with Iowa, each team with three losses in Big Ten play, although the Hawkeyes have played one more game.
“We just want to take care of the homecourt. Mission accomplished,” Dials said.
The Buckeyes improved to 9-0 when they hit at least eight shots behind the arc. They did that by halftime, leading 37-26 at the break.
In the first half, Foster hit all five of his shots behind the arc for 15 points. Butler made both of his for the Buckeyes, who were 8-of-12. When the Illini did match up with Ohio State’s perimeter shooters, the ball went into Dials, who had subpar efforts in three of his last five games. He had 13 points and seven rebounds to balance out Augustine’s 11 points and six boards.
“We wanted to throw the first punch,” Foster said.
The Buckeyes led 31-16 after Foster and Butler each hit back-to-back 3s.
Matta said his team met quietly after the game and the Buckeyes’ attention immediately shifted to Wednesday’s game in Madison, Wis.
“This year it was, ‘Let’s get ready for Wisconsin,”’ he said.