COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 7 Ohio State looks to snap its three-game losing streak Saturday when the Buckeyes host No. 4 Illinois in their final regular-season game.
The game will conclude OSU’s scheduling gauntlet with Illinois being the third top 10 team the Buckeyes have faced in their last four games. Ohio State got a much needed six-day break from games this week and is one of only a handful of teams that have played at least 25 games during this unprecedented season.
“We’ve just tried to give them some rest because they’ve needed that,” coach Chris Holtmann said.
OSU’s most recent loss came Sunday to No. 5 Iowa, which beat the Buckeyes 73-57 in their lowest-scoring game of the season.
“We’re not quite as confident as what we’ve been [offensively],” Holtmann said. “In the Iowa game, we were too careless, too sloppy offensively and the ball didn’t move quite as well and we missed some open shots. … I’m interested to see how we respond.”
The Buckeyes also lost to No. 2 Michigan and Michigan State in the past week and a half.
This game could be the last home game for seniors CJ Walker and Kyle Young. Both players, along with Jimmy Sotos and Abel Porter, have a chance to return next year because this season does not count as a year of eligibility for any Division I athlete.
During Friday’s news conference, Holtmann said Walker will turn pro after this season and added that Young has a decision to make about his future.
The Buckeyes beat the Fighting Illini 87-81 on Jan. 16. In that game, Illinois native E.J. Liddell scored a game-high 26 points while the Buckeyes shot 53% from the field and made 11 three pointers.
“We can’t expect for us to shoot it at that clip that we did to win that game,” Holtmann said. “We are going to have to be better than what we were defensively.”
Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn was perfect from the field in the loss but only attempted seven shots. Ohio State struggled against Iowa center Luka Garza who posted 24 points and 11 rebounds. Cockburn doesn’t shoot from deep like Garza, but his size presents the same challenge against a much smaller OSU team.
“He’s so big that if you play behind him, he can turn and score. If you front him, they can throw over the top and they’re really disciplined at getting him the ball,” Holtmann said. “He’s as physical as anybody I’ve ever coached against and he also plays in a physical way.”
Illinois’ best player, Ayo Dosunmu, scored 22 points against the Buckeyes on Jan. 16 and went to the foul line 10 times. It’s unclear whether he’ll play as he continues to recover from a broken nose. But despite his absence against No. 2 Michigan, the Fighting Illini routed the Wolverines 76-53 on Tuesday.
Right now, Ohio State is slated as the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, meaning they would only get one bye game. The top four teams get two byes in the conference tournament.
Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 4:00.