Buckeyes battle Illini in Big Ten action

Champaign, IL ( - Meeting for the second time in less than a month, the 22nd-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and Illinois Fighting Illini get together at State Farm Center on Saturday night for a Big Ten Conference tussle.

Through the first couple of months of the 2013-14 campaign, Ohio State had been considered among the best teams not only in the Big Ten, but the country as well. The start of conference play however, has brought the team back to Earth as it sits with a 6-6 league ledger as part of its 19-6 overall mark. The Buckeyes, who are 4-3 in true road games, are coming off a 70-60 loss at home to bitter rival Michigan, the setback snapping a three-game win streak for the team.

Illinois had enjoyed a solid run through the non-conference portion of its schedule as well, but the Illini have taken it on the chin since Big Ten play got underway as it has won only three of its 12 league bouts. UI dropped a 67-58 decision at Nebraska on Wednesday, marking the team's ninth loss in the last 10 games. A 60-55 win at Penn State three days earlier put the brakes on an embarrassing eight-game skid. One thing going for Illinois tonight is the fact that it is 9-4 at home this season.

LaQuinton Ross scored 18 points and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. added 16, helping the Buckeyes outlast the Illini in the first meeting between the two teams on Jan. 23 in Columbus. Joseph Bertrand paced Illinois with 19 points. Still, the Illini lead the all-time series by a 104-72 margin.

Ross poured in 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and Smith, Jr. tacked on 13 points behind a trio of 3-pointers, but the Buckeyes still came out on the short end in a 10-point decision against visiting Michigan. Ohio State went a woeful 3-of-20 from beyond the arc, and it came away with only 27 rebounds compared to 39 for the Wolverines. Michigan drained seven treys and claimed an 18-11 edge in points from the foul line.

Ross (14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Smith, Jr. (12.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) are the only two players averaging double figures for Ohio State, which is putting up 71.4 ppg on typical shooting efforts of .455 overall and .345 from distance. The Buckeyes really earn their keep at the defensive end, as they allow their opponents a mere 59.3 ppg, as they shoot just 40.1 percent from the field, which includes a 27.1 percent showing from 3-point land. OSU is +3.5 in turnover margin, forcing 14.5 miscues per outing.

As has been the case in nearly every game it has lost this season, Illinois shot the ball poorly in the recent loss to Nebraska, hitting just 36.7 percent of its field goal attempts, missing 13 of its 17 3-point tries along the way. Rayvonte Rice was the only player to reach double digits in the setback, as he tallied 23 points. Nnanna Egwu led the team with 12 boards. The Cornhuskers claimed a 24-18 edge in points from the foul line, getting a massive 33-point effort from Shavon Shields.

Despite their issues of late, Illinois boasts three double-digit scorers led by Rice and his 16.8 ppg. Tracy Abrams (11.1 ppg) and Bertrand (10.4 ppg) lend a hand, but the team as a whole is shooting only 41.1 percent from the floor, which includes a 30.8 percent showing from downtown. As a result, the Illini are netting only 66.9 ppg. Thankfully, they've played decently on defense in yielding just 64.3 ppg, and they've been able to goad the opposition into nearly a dozen turnovers per contest.