COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson scored 19 points to lead No. 19 Ohio State past No. 23 Illinois 71-63 on Thursday night.
E.J. Liddell tied a career high with 17 points and had 11 rebounds for the Buckeyes (21-9, 11-8 Big Ten), who have won four in a row and nine of their last 11. They are playing well at a critical time, with a road matchup against No. 16 Michigan State looming this weekend and the Big Ten tournament beginning Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Ayo Dosunmu had 21 points and five assists to pace Illinois (20-10, 12-7), which saw its conference championship hopes fade a bit more after starting the day a half-game behind leaders Maryland, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Still, the Illini are poised for a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.
Illinois led by as many as 11 in the first half and held a 37-30 lead at the break. The Buckeyes let fly with the 3-pointers in the opening frame but hit just one in seven tries.
After Illinois went up by seven, Ohio State chipped away and Kaleb Wesson’s fadeaway jumper tied the score at 51 with 9:30 left, part of an 11-2 run by the Buckeyes, who then built an eight-point lead.
After Wesson picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in a 15-second span, Illinois got within five with a steal by Dosunmu and a coast-to-coast layup by Andres Feliz. But Liddell’s shot in the paint and a couple of foul shots by Duane Washington Jr. gave the Buckeyes a 69-60 lead with 32 seconds remaining.
Illinois: The Illini’s second-half shooting was cold and 14 turnovers didn’t help.
Ohio State: Despite bad 3-point shooting, the Buckeyes found a way to rally as a tumultuous regular season winds down.
The Buckeyes could move up slightly, but they’re more concerned about tournament seeding at this point.
Illinois: Hosts Iowa in its regular-season finale on Sunday.
Ohio State: Finishes the season on Sunday at Michigan State.