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Three Observations – Ohio State



Coming off a double-digit home loss to Indiana, Illinois needed a strong showing to recapture some of the momentum they had heading toward the top of the conference standings. The Illini took a 17-point lead in the second half, eventually cruising to a nice 69-60 win over Ohio State.

1. Bigs Bounce Back

Indiana’s frontcourt battered the Illini, scoring 54 points in the paint and going +12 on the glass. Whereas, against the Buckeyes it was a different story, with Coleman Hawkins and Dain Dainja getting back to their stingy ways on the interior. Buckeye Center Zed Key didn’t score in the first half and the Illini finished +14 on the glass. Hawkins also took the primary assignment on Buckeye star Brice Sensabaugh, who finished with 14 on just 5-13 shooting. Without Sensabaugh’s usually efficient scoring, the Buckeyes were held to just 60 points, their lowest total of the year. “I feel like we’re unbeatable when Coleman plays like that,” Terrence Shannon Jr. said after the game.

2. Another First Five

After lamenting the offensive execution against Indiana, Brad Underwood switched up the starting lineup for the fourth time this season. Freshman Jayden Epps replaced fellow freshman Sencire Harris to give Illinois a more traditional ballhandler. It wasn’t a flawless start, as the Buckeyes held a lead going into the first TV timeout, and Dainja battled foul trouble all night. Despite this, the Illini finished with 13 assists on 24 made field goals and Epps had 14 points in his second career start.

3. Rodgers Rise Resumes

Although Ty Rodgers had a slow start to the season, as the Big Ten grind has ramped up the freshman forward has made himself a presence off the bench. 8 rebounds, a number of good passes, and his usual pedal-to-the-metal intensity led to another productive outing. With Dainja in foul trouble, Underwood leaned on Rodgers for some of the tougher Buckeye matchups while Hawkins played center. Rodgers saw Sensabaugh as well as second leading scorer Justice Sueing in bulk on defense and didn’t give an inch. Rodgers continues to get to his right hand in the lane, where he has shown good touch on floaters recently. The highlight of the night had to be the back-to-back possessions where Rodgers dimed Hawkins for a dunk off an offensive rebound followed by Hawkins immediately returning the favor the next time down with his touch pass into a Rodgers two hand tomahawk popping the cork on the Illini’s fifth victory in the last six games.

With this win Illinois goes to 14-6, 5-5 in Big Ten play. Their next game is a road trip to Wisconsin on Saturday.

Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.