Illinois basketball uses a late 9-0 run to avoid the season sweep by Ohio State.

Illinois basketball uses a late 9-0 run to avoid the season sweep by Ohio State.

Ayo Dosunmu scored the final five points for Illinois (20-6, 16-4 Big Ten) to lead the Fighting Illini to a 73-68 road victory over Ohio State. Dosunmu finished with 19 points shooting 7-10 from the field. Andre Curbelo added 19 points five rebounds and six assists. Kofi Cockburn finished with 12 points.

EJ Liddell had 19 points for Ohio State (18-7, 12-8 Big Ten). Duane Washington Jr. and Justice Sueing each finished with 15 points for the Buckeyes.

1) Illinois Basketball Solidifies the No.1 Seeds

Illinois basketball had been playing like a No.1 seed for quite some time and had been in the driver’s seat for the last No.1 seed since they defeated Michigan 76-53. Illinois has done exactly what they needed to do to stay put in that position despite the outcome of the upcoming Big Ten tournament. Illinois has won four straight. They have won 11 of their last 12 games and are one of the hottest teams in the country at this point in the season. Illinois basketball used that confidence to overcome a late four-point deficit and to hold Ohio State scoreless in the final 3:48 of the game. Dosunmu came up big down the stretch as he always does and played well in his first game back since Illinois lost at Michigan State. As the two seed in the Big Ten Tournament, it looks as if Illinois will be a No.1 in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.

2) Ohio State Continues to struggle on Defense

Ohio State entered the game allowing its opponents to shoot over 42% from the field. It was a testament to the proficient and efficient offense that the Buckeyes were only down four points at halftime after they allowed Illinois to shoot 62% from the field. Defensively, Ohio State found a way in the second half as they swarmed Cockburn in the post and guarded the perimeter well. However, Ohio State has still not found a consistent form on defense which has been a struggle for the Buckeyes to maintain success. Ohio State has now lost four straight.

3) Can Andre Curbelo be Illinois Basketball’s Third Option?

Illinois has one of the best duos in college basketball with Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. The two of them alone are hard enough for any opponent to stop. When Illinois struggled early in the season (if it was really struggling, more like playing under expectations) it was all Cockburn and Dosunmu. There wasn’t a third big-time player that could be consistently be counted on. Just in time for the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, Andre Curbelo is becoming that player. With Dosunmu out, Curbelo stepped up big time. Curbelo was happy to take a step back immediately when Dosunmu stepped back on the court. Curbelo does it all off the bench. He scores when needed. He plays defense. He sets his team up and puts them in the best position to score and to win. Andre Curbelo has taken the step forward that Illinois basketball needed. Now the Illini have Dosunmu, Cockburn, and Curbelo. You also have to be prepared for Trent Frazier, Adam Miller, Da’Monte Williams, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili. This is why Illinois is a dangerous team that can win a National Championship.

 

Featured Image by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By Matt Karner

Big East hoops writer for NCAAM Review Bracketologist for Busted Bracketology (www.bustedbracketology.wordpress.com) Twitter: @karner44 Instagram: @karner44

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