No. 10 Ohio State made every big play down the stretch to pull away from a 76-all tie to beat the Illini 96-84 on Sunday.
The game was tight throughout — something that's to be expected from the Illini (6-14, 0-7 Big Ten).
"I'm trying my best not to look at our record," coach Jolette Law said. "I just think that right now, we're almost there. I just have to continue to push them to get a little bit better."
Karisma Penn had 23 points, Adrienne GodBold 18, Amber Moore 13 and Ivory Crawford 12 for the Illini, who added to their list of close losses in conference play.
Four of their first six losses in the Big Ten had come on the final possession or in overtime, and that obviously doesn't count Sunday's close call.
"We're still positive," Penn said. "We could easily be 5-2. We know it's bound to happen. We just have to keep working hard. We're in all these games, it just kind of gets away from us at the end."
The Illini shot 53 percent from the field but were undone by 21 turnovers. Ohio State's big two — Samantha Prahalis with 28 points and Tayler Hill with 26 — seemed to make every big play with the game hanging in the balance.
Illinois starter Kersten Magrum, averaging 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds, missed her third game in a row with symptoms from a concussion she suffered in a game against Wisconsin.
With Ohio State (19-1, 6-1) holding a 76-68 lead, the Illini ran off the next eight points on two field goals by Crawford, one by GodBold and two foul shots by Lydia McCully.
But from there, the Buckeyes took over by scoring nine of the next 10 points.
"I told you that they're as athletic as anybody in the country," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said of the Illini. "They are. And when the game's played at a tempo, that's some pretty good stuff."
With the game tied at 76, Hill hit a 3 and Prahalis scored the next eight points for Ohio State to make it 87-79 with 2:45 left. Amber Stokes, who finished with 16 points, hit five free throws in the closing minutes to hold off the Illini.
"Everybody who comes to play us is going to play us hard," said Hill, the Big Ten's top scorer at more than 21 points a game. "They're going to give their best effort. Illinois did a good job today. The coaching staff did a good job preparing them for the game, they played hard. They came out and played the best they can, so I give them credit."
It's clear that one of these games, the Illini are going to put it all together.
"My kids played composed, they didn't give up, they didn't get rattled," Law said. "We played pretty good but down the stretch a couple of backdoor cuts and some communication (problems hurt us)."
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