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Ohio State holds off Illinois to remain unbeaten

Jan 23, 2011 - 8:19 AM Champaign, IL (Sports Network) - Jared Sullinger finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds, helping top-ranked Ohio State erase a second-half deficit and pull out a 73-68 victory over No. 23 Illinois at Assembly Hall.

Sullinger made 13-of-15 free throws in a spectacular foul-shooting performance by the Buckeyes (20-0, 7-0 Big Ten), who sank 24-of-27 and needed every make.

Aaron Craft made two with 15.2 seconds left to give Ohio State a 71-68 edge, and after Illinois turned the ball over on its next possession, William Buford drained two more to secure the victory and keep the Buckeyes undefeated.

Jereme Richmond had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Illini (14-6, 4-3), who were coming off Tuesday's defeat of Michigan State and suffered their first home loss of the season.

Illinois carried a one-point lead into halftime and never trailed throughout the early part of the second half. Then, just more than seven minutes in, Demetri McCamey fed a pass for Mike Davis by the baseline, and Davis contorted his body in order to bank in a layup as he was fouled. While Davis missed the free throw, the bucket gave Illinois a 50-42 advantage.

The Illini had a chance to take control on their next possession, but McCamey missed a three, and that was the turning point. The Buckeyes followed with a 14-0 run to not only erase their deficit but move in front.

"These guys, they kept their composure and that was the big thing," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, "and it all started on the defensive end for us."

Deshaun Thomas drained a three before Jon Diebler connected from the left corner to gave OSU a 53-50 edge with 8:52 to play. Thomas made another three more than a minute later to cap the stretch.

The Buckeyes led down the stretch and held a 68-61 advantage after Diebler made two foul shots with 2:12 on the clock. Illinois still faced that deficit going into the final minute, but put together a last-ditch rally.

McCamey sank a jumper with 54 seconds left and missed the resulting free throw, but Mike Tisdale grabbed the rebound. That led to a trip to the line for Tisdale, who went 2-for-2 to make it a 68-65 game. Sullinger went 1-for-2 at the other end.

With time winding down and while about five feet above the three-point line, McCamey jumped as though starting to shoot. Instead, he passed to an open Tisdale, who stepped back behind the line and sank the three-pointer to pull Illinois within 69-68 with 17 seconds to play.

The Illini quickly fouled Craft, so even though the freshman made both, Illinois could have tried for a quick basket instead of a game-tying three- pointer. But it didn't even get the chance at a shot, as Tisdale lost the ball.

Saturday's contest was another close call for Ohio State -- five of its Big Ten victories have come by five points or fewer.

Ohio State led by as many as eight in the first half, and Craft's layup with 2:53 left made it a 33-26 contest. But the Illini ended the period on an eight-point run and held a 34-33 edge at the break.

Game Notes

Diebler finished with 15 points for Ohio State...Tisdale scored 15 points for Illinois, while Davis had 11 with seven rebounds...OSU extended the fourth- longest win streak in team history. The Buckeyes' longest was a 32-game run from 1959-61...Ohio State also continued the third-best start in program history. The Buckeyes started 27-0 in 1960-61 and 22-0 the following season...Ohio State has won four in a row against Illinois...The Illini are 2-20 all-time against No. 1-ranked opponents.