January 24, 2014

Breaking it down: Illinois

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a four-game losing streak that had cast formerly undefeated Ohio State into a spiraling mess, the Buckeyes got their first win in almost three weeks against equally-floundering Illinois.

But for at least the first 20 minutes of play, such a feat seemed in peril.

"Offensively, the first half I'm just like, 'My gosh here we go again,'" coach Thad Matta said. "And when Amir missed the dunk i'm like maybe this isn't supposed to be."

After all, Ohio State connected on just 29 percent of its shots in the first half and looked like the same sputtering, unnerved outfit that has simply come undone lately. Ultimately, it wasn't the case against the Fighting Illini.

Instead, Matta's crew used a 9-0 run to pull away from Illinois before staving off the Fighting Illini down the stretch for a 62-55 win Thursday at the Schottenstein Center.

"They had a different look in their eye down the stretch," he said.

And for an Ohio State team that essentially let all four of its losses slip away in the game's waning minutes, maybe it's as simple as that.

"If you watch our last couple of games, I think our coaches have been saying that we lost all those games in the last five minutes because we was close in most of those games and then you see teams just blow open the lead," junior forward LaQuinton Ross, who scored 18 points, said.

"I think it was mainly on us, not being mentally prepared in the last five minutes with turnovers, guys missing shots and we was basically just playing like we was down 10 most of the time, we was only down like one or two points. I think tonight, that last five minutes, we really focused in."

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