Sports

Big Ten bout boasts Illini against Buckeyes

Columbus, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - A couple of teams coming off disappointing outcomes in their respective Big Ten Conference openers get together on Saturday afternoon, as the Illinois Fighting Illini come calling on the 20th- ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

Illinois dropped a 73-65 overtime decision at Michigan on Tuesday to fall to 10-4 overall and 0-1 in conference. The loss snapped what had been a three- game win streak for the Illini, who had lost two in a row prior to formidable foes in Villanova and Oregon. The team's other setback came against Miami- Florida, with all four losses coming during the month of December. Illinois is 0-2 in true road games.

Ohio State had a modest two-game win streak come to an end with Tuesday's 71-65 home loss to Iowa. The setback dropped the Buckeyes to 11-3 overall, and it was their first loss in 12 home games this season. OSU's other defeats came at Louisville (64-55) and versus North Carolina in Chicago (82-74).

Although Illinois owns a 101-68 lead in the all-time series, Ohio State has won 14 of the 19 meetings since Thad Matta took over as head coach. The Buckeyes have won nine of the last 11 games, and the last five in Columbus.

Illinois let a double-digit lead in the second half slip away, as it fell in overtime to Michigan in the Big Ten opener for both clubs earlier this week. Malcolm Hill scored 19 points to lead the Fighting Illini, which made good on only 41.4 percent of its total shots, which included a 6-of-15 effort from 3- point range. Conversely, the Wolverines knocked down 10 treys, but shot just 40.9 percent from the floor overall. Rayvonte Rice grabbed 11 rebounds for Illinois, which committed a dozen turnovers, while Michigan was guilty of only five.

Rice has been one of the top performers in the Big Ten this season, as he averages 17.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Hill (13.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is the only other double-digit scorer for Illinois, which generates 78.1 ppg in hitting 37.8 percent of its long-range launches. The team's defensive effort yields only 63.1 ppg, with foes shooting just 38.9 percent from the floor overall, including a 31.1 percent effort from long distance. The Illini own a +4.3 turnover differential (9.9 to 14.2 tpg).

Sam Thompson scored 17 points, D'Angelo Russell added 13 and Marc Loving 10, but those efforts went for naught as Ohio State fell in its league lid lifter to Iowa earlier in the week. The Buckeyes were outshot in the game, .460 to .421, and they converted only 6-of-25 3-point tries (.250) while being outscored at the free-throw line, 17-11. They were also beaten on the boards, 37-29. They were guilty of only nine turnovers, while the Hawkeyes gave up the basketball 14 times.

Russell continues to spearhead Ohio State's offensive attack, as he is averaging 17.4 ppg to go with 4.6 rpg and 5.2 apg. Loving is a 54.9 percent shooter from 3-point range who nets 12.2 ppg, while Sam Thompson contributes 10.2 points and 4.2 caroms per contest. Shannon Scott dishes out 7.6 apg to serves as one of the top playmakers in the country. As a team, the Buckeyes are putting up 83.9 ppg while permitting only 59.4 ppg, giving them a massive 24.5 scoring margin. They are also on the plus-side of the ledger in terms of rebounding (+4.9) and turnover margin (+6.3), the latter coming as a result of OSU goading the opposition into nearly 18 miscues per outing.