No. 11 Illinois routed No. 8 Ohio State 74-55 in Champaign in a Big Ten showdown that was supposed to be much closer.
Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams led the Fighting Illini backcourt to a dominant performance, while forward Nnanna Egwu came through with a surprising standout game.
The first half was all Illini. The team pushed the pace and passed the ball extremely well, with Paul and Egwu leading the scoring efforts. Each had eight points in the first half, while Abrams added seven more.
Ohio State, in contrast, was sloppy and failed to keep up with the home team when it got out in transition.
The second half started with more of the same, and Illinois continued to build its lead. The Illini's productive backcourt duo of Abrams and Paul sparked the team by playing uptempo and hitting shots from the perimeter.
Paul finished the game with 19 points, and Abrams had 13 points to go with five assists. Egwu ended with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Ohio State star Deshaun Thomas led all scorers with 24 points, but his 9-of-21 shooting performance was a testament to Illinois' solid defense in this contest.
This game proved how many quality teams there are in the Big Ten this year, and it will be an exciting season throughout the conference.
ESPN Stats & Info let Ohio State fans know right away that they had reason to worry:
Ohio State men's basketball: lost 7 of last 8 games at Illinois when Illini are ranked (won last)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 5, 2013
Former Ohio State standout and current Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger is likely following ESPN Stats & Info, and he was unsurprised by Illinois' first-half performance.
Every team brings their A game when they play the Buckeyes so I am not surprised Illinois is playing well. Plus we dont win @ill most times.— Jared Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) January 5, 2013
The Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart noted that the Buckeyes offense is heavily reliant on one player, whereas the Illini have several sources of points:
If Deshaun Thomas isn't scoring, the #Buckeyes can seem pretty average.— Tom Dienhart (@BTNTomDienhart) January 5, 2013
The Columbus Dispatch's Bob Baptist took note of Ohio State's uncharacteristically high turnover rate in this contest:
ESPNCU.com's Jeremy Werner was impressed with Brandon Paul's ability to hit tough shots:
Brandon Paul, ladies and gentlemen. When you think it's a bad shot, he drains it.— Jeremy Werner (@WernerESPNCU) January 5, 2013
CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman does not think much of Ohio State, but he was still surprised to see Illinois hold such a commanding lead well into the second half.
Knew Ohio State was overrated and limited, but did not expect this > Illinois 58, Ohio State 38 in Champaign.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) January 5, 2013
Fox Sports' Fletcher Page noted that this was an important personal and professional victory for Illini coach John Groce:
#Illini bounce back, upset No. 8 Ohio State 74-55. John Groce gets victory in first meeting w/ coaching mentor Thad Matta.— Fletcher Page (@FletcherPage) January 5, 2013