No. 4 Illinois has positioned itself to make a run at a No. 1 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament after following up its road win against No. 2 Michigan with a victory against No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus. Star guard Ayo Dosunmu returned to the lineup and helped the Fighting Illini close on a 9-0 run to win 73-68.
An EJ Liddell 3-pointer with 3:48 remaining gave Ohio State a 68-64 lead that seemed to indicate a final turning of the tide in a second half that saw the Buckeyes take control of the game. Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn had not been as dominant as he was in the first half and the Buckeyes, particularly Liddell, started playing with some real confidence on the offensive end of the floor. The tone at the final media timeout was suggested a streak-snapping Buckeyes win was in the cards, but a scoreless final 3:48 left Chris Holtmann and Ohio State with a fourth straight loss heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
One of the biggest keys to Illinois’ play down the stretch in this back-and-forth battle between top-10 teams was the presence of Dosunmu, who scored the go-ahead basket with 44 seconds left and led Illinois with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The junior played 36 minutes in his first game back from a facial injury that cost him three games, and when it came to those crunch-time possessions it was clear Illinois was happy to have its closer back on the floor.
For Ohio State, the loss likely eliminates it from 1-seed contention while Illinois moves closer to securing a spot on the top line for Selection Sunday. The win, along with the victory against Michigan, also cements Illinois’ status as a real national championship contender worthy of mention alongside Gonzaga, Baylor and the Wolverines.