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Buckeyes end four game losing streak with win over Illinois
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- LaQuinton Ross scored 18 points and Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 16 -- including a critical 3-pointer in the waning moments -- to help No. 17 Ohio State end a four-game skid with a 62-55 win over Illinois on Thursday night.
Aaron Craft added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Buckeyes (16-4, 3-4 Big Ten), who had lost four in a row for the first time since 2007-08.
Joseph Bertrand had 19 points, Jon Ekey 11 and Nnanna Egwu 10 for the Illini (13-7, 2-5), who lost their fifth straight. They haven't won since Jan. 4 and play three of their next four games against ranked opponents.
Rayvonte Rice, averaging 17.4 points a game, was 0 for 8 from the field and went scoreless. The Illini have lost their last six Big Ten road games and fell to 1-4 against ranked teams this season.
Trailing by as many as four points and down 34-31 just over 5 minutes into a defense-dominated second half, the Buckeyes suddenly found the range.
Illinois inexplicably left Ross -- one of the Buckeyes' few offensive threats -- all alone under the basket for an easy bucket.
Craft then stole the ball and drove the distance for the layup and a 35-34 lead.
The Illini turned the ball over on their next two possessions, as well.
Smith, who had 35 points total during the losing skid, then drove the right baseline for a bucket off an assist from Craft.
After an Illinois miss, Craft handed the ball to Sam Thompson who hit a 3 from the right elbow to push the lead to 40-34.
Still, the Illini didn't fold. They pulled to 41-40 on 3s by Ekey and Bertrand and pulled even at 46 on Tracy Abrams' slash through the lane. He missed the cap on a possible three-point play, however, and at the end Shannon Scott fed Ross for a 3 from the left wing.
The teams traded missed chances until Smith stepped in front of a bad pass by Abrams and fed Scott for a left-handed layup with 3:50 remaining for a 51-46 advantage.
With the Buckeyes up 52-50, Ross drove the lane against the Illinois zone and was fouled, banking in a shot and adding the accompanying free throw with 2:07 left.
The Illini then turned it over on an offensive foul by Rice before Smith poured in a 3 from in front of the Ohio State bench for a 58-50 lead with 75 seconds remaining.
Illinois never threatened again.
Neither team gained much traction in the opening half, with Illinois up 25-24 at the break.
The Buckeyes scored the first five points but the Illini -- who scored on four of their final five possessions including the last three -- finally found some tempo in the closing moments.
Bertrand, averaging 10.6 points a game, had 10 in the first 20 minutes.
Ohio State, true to its recent form, struggled on offense. The Buckeyes hit just 7 of 24 shots from the field (29 percent), actually hitting a higher percentage outside the arc (3 of 10) than they did inside it (4 of 14 for 29 percent).
With the Buckeyes up 21-18 after Aaron Craft's two free throws with 2:29 left, Bertrand hit a falling-down 3 from the top of the key as the shot clock was expiring. Jaylon Tate then flipped backdoor assist passes to Ekey and Nnanna Egwu for easy baskets.
Smith hit two 3-pointers for six points and Williams had five points and six rebounds at intermission.