COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Buckeyes answered their critics on Tuesday night with a convincing win over a bubble sitting Fighting Illini team. David Lighty snapped out of his shooting funk running off 13 straight points for Ohio State and ended up with 21 as Ohio State (26-2, 13-2) led by double digits most of the way en route to a 89-70 win at home over Illinois (17-11, 7-8).
Five Buckeyes all together scored in double figures including William Buford who carried the team for the first half and ended up with 17 points (all scored in the first half) and a double-double by Jared Sullinger who had 12 points and 11 rebounds. The Illini were led by Mike Davis and his 18 points and seven rebounds while Mike Tisdale went 4-5 from beyond the arc (all scored in the first half) and had 14 points. The Illini went 8 of 9 from three in the first half and cooled down in the second half to end up 11 of 21.
The Buckeyes solved the problem of the turnover that plagued them in West Lafayette (Ind.) on Sunday where they turned it over 18 times. On Tuesday night the team committed zero turnovers in the first half and only a total of three throughout the entire game. On the other side the Illini could not hang onto the ball and committed 16 giveaways that led to 25 Ohio State points and 12 more shot attempts than the Illini took.
"Defensively we played okay," a determined Sullinger said. "But we can play a lot better than that."
The often underappreciated Lighty started off the night ice-cold going 0 for 4 early which was compounded with a 2 for 9 outing at Purdue. The rest of the way Lighty went 8 for 12 and had six steals and four rebounds. Illini head coach Bruce Weber had nothing but positive things to say about the fifth year senior after the game.
"I think he's the MVP, but probably won't get it," Weber said. "He's their heart and soul. Nothing against Jared Sullinger, he's tremendous but Lighty is their heart and soul and he's the reason they win."
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta echoed the sentiment.
"His second half performance tonight was at a high level," Matta said. "I don't think he's gotten half the credit he deserves."
Not everything went as planned for Matta's team however and despite taking a 15 point lead into the locker room the Buckeyes experienced one of their patented lulls and allowed Illinois to go on an 11-2 run that encompassed the first four minute segment and beyond the first media timeout. But the Buckeyes answered with a 13-2 run of their own and put the game essentially out of reach despite a final 8-0 run by Illinois to cut the head to nine.
Jon Diebler found his stroke on Tuesday night and went a perfect 3 of 3 from distance and improved his all time Big Ten record of 336 makes.
The Buckeyes hold a one game lead over Purdue and play three more games, two of them being at home (Indiana and Wisconsin) and Penn State on the road between those two games. There is very little margin for error and the Buckeyes must continue the grind of the regular season before a quick turnaround for the Big Ten Tournament.