Illini can't complete comeback over Ohio State
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Freshman Malaki Branham scored 31 points to lift No. 22 Ohio State to an 86-83 win over No. 15 Illinois on Thursday night.
The result dealt a serious blow to Illinois' Big Ten title hopes, dropping them a full game behind leaders Purdue and Wisconsin two weeks left in the regular season.
The Illini (19-8, 12-5 Big Ten) mounted a furious 10-0 run to cut their deficit to two points with 1:49 left in the game on Jacob Grandison's layup, and Trent Frazier buried a 3 with 14.6 seconds left to pull Illinois within one point.
After Ohio State's Kyle Young split two shots at the line, Frazier drove to the basket, but turned the ball over when he misplaced a pass out to Grandison at the 3-point line with four seconds left.
With the win, the Buckeyes (18-7, 11-6 Big Ten) are in fourth place in the conference -- a game-and-a-half behind Purdue and Wisconsin and one behind Illinois.
Illinois guard Alfonso Plummer hit his first four attempts from 3-point range, helping Illinois jump out to a 21-8 lead in the opening 10 minutes. Plummer finished with 26 points to lead Illinois. Grandison had 14 and Frazier and Kofi Cockburn, who fouled out in the second half, each had 12.
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell was questionable with the flu before the game, but made the start and finished with 21 points and six rebounds. Young had with 18 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The Buckeyes started the game 3 of 13 from the field, but closed the half by making 9 of their final 14 attempts. Ohio State finished the half on a 28-16 run, trailing 37-36 at the break. Liddell knocked down a jumper on the Buckeyes' opening possession of the second half to edge them ahead, 38-37, for the first time of the night.
The Buckeyes pieced together an 14-2 run early in the second half, taking a 50-39 lead on Branham's jumper with 15:42 to play.
Illinois hit four shots in a row to cut the Ohio State lead down to eight points on Trent Frazier's layup with 9:14 left.