Buckeyes nearly blow big lead but hang on to beat Illini

Preview | Box Score | Recap

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—David Lighty scored 16 points and had a critical rebound and two free throws with 30 seconds left to help Ohio State avoid a late collapse in a 64-58 victory over Illinois on Tuesday night.

The Buckeyes (13-6, 4-2 Big Ten), who ended a three-game losing skid, led 55-40 with 6:26 left and seemed in control of the game before the Illini roared back to make things uncomfortable in the final minutes.

Illinois (9-11, 1-6) cut the lead to 61-58 on Brian Randle’s rebound with 33 seconds left. The Illini then fouled Ohio State center Kosta Koufos on the inbounds play, but he missed both shots.

Even though two Illinois players had the inside track on the rebound of Koufos’ second miss, Lighty raced between them and got there first and was fouled. He then hit both foul shots.

The Illini then missed their next shot and Koufos rebounded and was fouled, hitting another free throw to end the scoring.

Evan Turner added 14 points and Koufos had 12 for the Buckeyes, who grabbed their fifth consecutive win over the Illini, following five straight losses to them.

Ohio State was returning home after close losses at three difficult venues (Purdue, No. 11 Michigan State and No. 6 Tennessee).

Rodney Alexander scored a career-high 20 points for the Illini, who have lost seven of eight. Randle added 13 and Trent Meacham had 12—all on 3-point shots.

The Illini were without leading scorer Shaun Pruitt, who came in averaging 12.9 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. Coach Bruce Weber said it was a “team matter”—he wouldn’t go beyond that—and said he hoped Pruitt would work hard in practice and return soon to the starting lineup.

The Buckeyes forged a 33-23 lead by halftime, hitting 62 percent of their shots from the field while the Illini were managing just 28 percent.

One play spoke volumes for Illinois. In the waning seconds of the half, Randle got behind Ohio State’s press and was all alone for a two-handed dunk, but he jammed it off the back of the rim and it caromed all the way behind him and out of bounds. While the crowd hooted and mocked him, he stood helplessly under the basket, staring in disbelief.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes could do little wrong. Jon Diebler, who had missed his last 19 3-point shots in a miserable shooting year, came off the bench and made his first attempt. That gave the Buckeyes a 13-8 lead.

They built it to 20-10 with a 7-0 run featuring a Lighty 3-pointer, freshman Evan Turner’s stop-and-go layup and a dunk by Othello Hunter off an alley-oop assist pass from Lighty.

The game was held up for several minutes midway through the second half by a shot-clock malfunction.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Illinois
R. Alexander R. Alexander
6-14,  20 Pts
11 Rebs, 1 Assists
 Ohio St.
D. Lighty D. Lighty
5-10,  16 Pts
4 Rebs, 4 Assists

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Tuesday, Jan 22