Ohio State blitzed Illinois yesterday and avoided having an actual losing streak for the first time in years. Playing in front of a friendly home crowd, the Buckeyes shot lights out in the first half and gave their reserves plenty of playing time in the second half. They ended up beating Illinois 83-67, in a game that really wasn’t as close as the final score.
For Ohio State fans, there was joy in seeing the Buckeyes shoot the ball well. As Uncle Mack has (gleefully) pointed out in his last few basketball-related posts, Ohio State has thrown up its share of bricks in the losses to Michigan State and Michigan. Against Illinois — which, admittedly, is not one of the toughest defensive teams in the Big Ten — the Buckeyes shot 65 percent from the field and better than 50 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Getting some fast-break baskets and dunks certainly helped.
I’m convinced that there are two keys to how well the Buckeyes do for the rest of the year: William Buford and Aaron Craft. When Buford plays within the offense and shoots the ball reasonably well, Ohio State becomes a more multi-dimensional offensive team that is much harder to guard. Craft, on the other hand, is the engine that makes the team run. When he gets steals and forces turnovers, and particularly when he takes the ball down the lane and either dishes or shoots, he converts Ohio State from a very good team into a real contender.
The Buckeyes finish the season with a home game against gritty Wisconsin, a visit to Evanston to play Northwestern, and then the rematch against Michigan State. We’ll find out soon enough whether the Buckeyes’ home cooking against Illinois was the start of a good-shooting trend, or just the result of playing an overmatched opponent that is wrestling with all kinds of demons.