Illini can't keep pace with Lighty, Buckeyes.
Raise your hand if you thought Illinois would beat No. 2 Ohio State Tuesday.
An 11-point favorite, the league-leading Buckeyes became the first team to shoot better than 50 percent against Illinois this season, and Ohio State also held a 25-6 advantage in points off turnovers while rolling past the Illini 89-70 in a Big Ten Conference basketball game at Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes shot 53 percent and lost only three turnovers while overpowering the Illini, who kept it close by shooting 8-for-9 from the 3-point line in the first half. The Illini, who experimented with another lineup change and started freshman guard Crandall Head, said their most important game of the season comes against visiting Iowa Saturday (6 p.m., BTN).
"It would have been nice to get this one,'' said Illini forward Mike Davis. "Nobody expected us to win, except ourselves. We've got to get ready for Saturday. We can't lose this game. If we do, we're probably out of the mix for everything. We lose, we're done.''
Illinois defeated Iowa by 10 in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 29 while shooting 72 percent from the 3-point line, and the Illini can't afford another bad loss. They already have two of them -- to Illinois-Chicago (ranked No. 290 in one RPI) and Indiana (No. 179). The common speculation is that Illinois must sweep remaining home games against Iowa and Indiana to stay alive for an NCAA berth.
Simply put, guard Demetri McCamey said, "I told the seniors and the team in the locker room Saturday is the biggest game of our careers.''
A win against the Buckeyes would have looked good on the resume, too, but Illinois fell to 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big Ten. The Illini dropped into a three-way tie for fifth in the league standings.
Head, who logged 2 minutes in the previous 11 Big Ten games, made his first college start. The Illini also tried a triangle-and-two defense in the second half. Illinois coach Bruce Weber said McCamey suggested to start Head.
"It was something I told coach Weber, since I haven't been playing good and Crandall has been battling in practice. I told him to give him a chance tonight. They've been playing better than me. It's being a good teammate.''
McCamey said, "I think I'll probably be back in there the next game because it's probably the biggest game of the year. I think I'll be out there.''
The Illini trailed 10-8 before Weber inserted McCamey, D.J. Richardson, Bill Cole and Meyers Leonard into the game with 14 minutes 47 seconds left in the first half. The Illini hung within 33-30 before Ohio State finished with a 14-2 run for a 47-32 halftime lead. The Illini were 1-for-6 with three turnovers during the span.
Davis had 18 points and seven rebounds to lead the Illini. McCamey finished with 15 points and six assists but lost five turnovers. Freshman forweard Jereme Richmond had 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists but also lost three turnovers. Center Mike Tisdale had 14 points, including 4-for-5 shooting from the 3-point line, and five rebounds.
Weber rated the Illini defense as "awful'' after the Buckeyes shot 57.1 in the first half and became the first team since Ohio State last season -- a 37-game streak -- to shoot 50 percent or better against the Illini. Ohio State didn't lose a turnover in the first half and had 18 points off turnovers.
Ohio State senior David Lighty finished with 21 points and six steals, and guard William Buford scored all of his 17 points in the first half.
"If you have a Lighty, he's a heart and soul who just comes everyday and does what's needed,'' Weber said. "We don't have that toughness, that leadership. That's the difference maker.''
Had Illinois played a tougher team in Davis' career?
"Maybe not,'' he said. "We have to play a perfect game to beat them,'' Davis said.
Ohio State (26-2, 13-2) bounced back from losing two of its last three games.
"We were hoping they'd find a way to beat Purdue and catch them off guard,'' Weber said. "We didn't catch them off guard, because they played at a high level.''
Following a 76-63 loss at Purdue Sunday, Ohio State just had a light shooting session and went through the scouting report on Monday to save energy.
"We lost two, but as coach told us, it's not the end of the world,'' said Ohio State guard Jon. Diebler.
NOTES: Ohio State shot 53.1 percent in a 72-53 win over Illinois in Assembly Hall on Feb. 14, 2010. . . Head played a total of 7 minutes in the Big Ten before his start against the Buckeyes. .Illinois report card Front court -- B Mike Davis has put together a respectable stretch of games toward the end of his career. He's playing hard. Back court -- D Starting Brandon Paul and Crandall Head against Ohio State might help down the road, but it didn't do much against the Buckeyes. Bench -- D Demetri McCamey scored but couldn't keep the ball away from Ohio State. Overall -- C- Illinois played hard, but Ohio State seemed in control. This one was never considered a real chance for a win. The Illini must protect the home court in their last two games.