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January 5, 2013

Buckeyes fail to fight Illini

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Ohio State basketball team is going to have to wait at least three more days for its first road win of the season, and another week for its first victory over a ranked opponent.

The eighth-ranked Buckeyes (11-3, 1-1) could have picked up both on Saturday afternoon, but failed to do so, falling the No. 11 Illinois (14-2, 1-1) by a score of 74-55 at Assembly Hall in Champaign. After losses to Duke and Kansas in out-of-conference play, OSU remains winless in top-25 matchups this season.

In the first meeting between OSU coach Thad Matta and former assistant and first-year Fighting Illini coach John Groce, the pupil got the best of his mentor from start to finish. Illinois raced out of the gates to a 9-3 lead before the Buckeyes briefly cut the Illini advantage to just three points.

Illinois used a 12-2 run to stretch its lead to 14 points midway through the first half, and ultimately took a 12-point advantage into halftime after leading by as many as 16 points.

"It was one of those games where we weren't thinking the way we needed to think," Matta said. "They gave us opportunities and we couldn't convert."

The second half wasn't much kinder to Ohio State, who was held to just four points and one made field goal in the first eight minutes of play. The Illini stretched their lead to as many as 25 points behind 19 points from leading scorer Brandon Paul.

Toying with several lineup combinations throughout the second half, a 12-2 run from the Buckeyes helped them cut their deficit to 14 points with 6:37 remaining in the game, but a 7-0 Illinois stretched the Illini's lead back to 20 points and out of striking distance for OSU.

"We were trying anything we could," Matta said. "Unfortunately you have games like this, but you hope they're few and far between."

Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 24 points, which came on a 9-of-21 shooting effort. Only Aaron Craft (11 points) joined Thomas in double-digit scoring for OSU, who made just 33.3 percent of its shots, compared to Illinois' 48.3 success rate from the field.

The Buckeyes will return to action and the road on Tuesday, when they'll travel to West Lafayette, Ind. for a meeting with Purdue, who beat the Illini last Wednesday. OSU will get another shot at beating its first ranked opponent this season next Sunday, when it hosts No. 2 Michigan at the Schottenstein Center.

"It's one of those deals where it keeps coming," Matta said. "Some how, some way, you've got to get your fire back, get your passion back, and get ready to go."

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