Illini claim rare Big Ten title
Columbus, OH (Sports Network) – Dee Brown poured in a team-high 18 points in
leading 18th-ranked Illinois to its first outright Big Ten regular season
championship since 1952, with a 64-63 win over Ohio State at Value City Arena.
Deron Williams added 14 points and six assists for Illinois (22-5, 13-3 Big
Ten), which won its final 10 games of the regular season and clinched the top
seed and a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament next week. Luther Head
chipped in 13 points in the winning effort.
“Nothing comes easy for us,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “It hasn’t
come easy all year. We were 1-2 and 3-3 (in the Big Ten) and a lot of people
doubted. But the players kept saying, ‘Big Ten champs!’ in every huddle, at
practice, in games or whatever. And 11-1 later, here we are.”
Terence Dials paced the Buckeyes (14-15, 6-10) with a game-high 22 points, as
they lost two of their final three games to close out the regular season. The
Buckeyes will enter next week’s conference tournament as the ninth seed and
will face No. 8 Indiana in the first round. Tony Stockman had 13 points in the
Illinois, which led by double-figures for most of the second half, went up
55-41 on a Williams jumper with 8:56 remaining in the game.
Ohio State, though, countered and used a 17-6 run, including 10 straight
points from Dials, to get within three at 61-58 with 2:34 left.
“I just took it at them,” Dials said. “I knew (the defense) would not be
aggressive to avoid giving up ‘and-ones.’”
Brown hit a foul-line jumper at the other end of the court to stretch
Illinois’ edge to five, but Dials again came up big for the Buckeyes as he
converted a layup to make it 63-60 at the 1:44 mark.
Williams then made it a two possession game by making 1-of-2 free throws on
the next possession, but Stockman drained a three with only eight seconds left
which made it 64-63.
Williams was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass, but missed the front end of
a one-and-one. Dials grabbed the miss and gave it to Brandon Fuss-Cheatham,
who raced up the floor, but lost the ball out of bounds as time expired.
“We didn’t play perfect basketball at the end, but I guess we had enough
points to win the game by one,” Weber said laughing.
Illinois shot 51 percent from the floor (24-of-47), while the Buckeyes only
made 45 percent of their attempts (20-of-44).
Nick Dials hit a three with 10:39 to play until halftime to bring Ohio State
within 18-12, but the Fighting Illini reeled off a 12-2 run over the next 3
1/2 minutes to take a 30-14 advantage. Brown scored half of the points during
the burst with a pair of three-pointers from the left wing.
Illinois led by double-digits the rest of the half in taking a 34-22 edge into