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Loving, Ohio State top Fighting Illini

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — All Marc Loving apparently needed was one successful shot.

The Ohio State freshman forward hit a baseline jumper with 9:58 left in the second half to launch a personal 8-0 run and lead the No. 22 Buckeyes to a 48-39 Big Ten victory over the host Illinois Fighting Illini at the State Farm Center.

“When that ball went through for him I was just so excited,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I talked to him in practice and said ‘it’s going to happen” … and when that (first) shot went down you could see a thousand pounds lifted off of him.”

The Buckeyes (20-6, 7-6 in the Big Ten) bounced back from a mid-week loss to No. 15 Michigan as guard Aaron Craft scored 14 points, forward Ross LaQuinton had nine points and Loving added eight — all in the second half.

The Illini (14-12, 3-10) dropped their second straight and 10th in their last 11 games despite 13 points from guard Tracy Abrams, 11 from guard Rayvonte Rice and a career-high 14 rebounds from center Nnanna Egwu.

Both teams struggled from the field. Illinois was just 15 of 53 (28.3 percent). Ohio State was 18 of 47 (38.3 percent) for the game but better in the second half going 9 of 19 (47.4 percent).

“Obviously our offense was anemic today and Ohio State had a lot to do with that,” said Illinois coach John Groce. “I thought they imposed their will on the defensive end — especially in the second half.”

Illinois missed six of its first seven shots from the field in the second half and Craft broke a 25-25 tie with a 3-pointer for a 28-25 lead at the 15:14 mark, the Buckeyes’ first lead since early in the game.

Ohio State later opened a 42-29 lead as Loving collected back-to-back field goals, two free throws and a baseline jumper — his first points of the game — during a 12-0 run.

“It was definitely a good feeling,” said Loving, who had just five points total in his six previous games. “You just have to get more reps, eventually the ball is going to go in. You can’t keep doubting yourself. You have to have a lot of confidence in your game.”

But it was not just Loving.

“We assisted them a little bit,” Groce said. “Not only did Loving make shots during that run, but we turned in over three times and missed two layups.”

Abrams broke a 8:20 Illinois drought with a 3-pointer with 4:25 to play that cut the Ohio State lead to 42-32.

Illinois crept even closer thanks to Rice’s 3-pointer and a layup in a 44-second span, leaving the Illini trailing 44-37 with 1:11 to play.

Rice had another layup with 58 seconds left that cut the deficit to five, but Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit two free throws to restore a seven-point lead at 46-39 with 52 seconds showing.

Illinois led all but 15 seconds of the first half as Abrams hit two 3-pointers for six points and guard Kendrick Nunn added five for an early 17-14 lead.

But both teams had subpar first half shooting percentages that slipped to 32.1 percent from the field (9 of 28) for Ohio State and 29 percent (9 of 31) for Illinois by halftime.

The Illini never gave up the lead and opened a 23-20 halftime edge behind Abrams’ six points and Egwu’s 11 rebounds. Craft paced the Buckeyes with seven first-half points.

NOTES: Saturday’s game was the third in six days for the Illini, who beat Penn State 60-55 last Sunday before falling 67-58 on Wednesday at Nebraska. Illinois snapped an eight-game losing streak with the win in State College. … Illinois G Rayvonte Rice is the only Big Ten player currently leading his team in scoring (16.8 points), rebounding (6.0) and steals (1.3). … The Illini are now 1-6 against ranked teams this season. They also dropped a 62-55 decision to the Buckeyes in Columbus on Jan. 23. … Ohio State G Aaron Craft came in as reigning Big Ten player of the week, winning his third weekly award after averaging 12 points, 10 assists and nine steals in two wins last week. … The Buckeyes still the Illini 60-24 all

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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