CHAMPAIGN – The No. 14 Illini men’s basketball team dropped its second straight home game at the State Farm Center Saturday, with an 87-81 loss to the 21st-ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State.
Two-time Illinois Mr. Basketball (as a player for Belleville West), E.J. Liddell, again haunted his home state school, dropping a career-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 4-of-7 three pointers.
Illini coach Brad Underwood wasn’t surprised that Liddell was effective, but he wasn’t expecting the sharpshooting.
“He hasn’t been an overly productive three-point shooter, ” observed Underwood of Liddell, who entered the game having converted three total three-pointers this season. “You put your hand down against a good player and don’t get your hand up, don’t challenge him, he’s gonna bust your tail. E.J was phenomenal today.”
Kofi Cockburn tallied another double-double for Illinois, scoring 15 points to go with 11 rebounds. But as with last week’s loss to Maryland, he didn’t get enough touches. Cockburn was 7-for-7 from the field.
His shooting wasn’t as good from the free-throw line, where Cockburn made just one of five attempts. That inconsistency frustrated Underwood.
“Can’t stand up there and make ’em for him,” said Underwood. “He practices them, shoots ’em a million times.. He’s gotta stand up there and make ’em.”
Underwood, visibly angry after the game, promised his team would get tougher, beginning with an early Sunday morning practice.
“There’s gonna be a pretty good meeting,” he said. “There’s gonna be a lot of things aired, that you guys (the media) will never know about, but we’re gonna get some things aired out and we’re gonna get some things figured out. That’ll be first thing in the morning.”
Underwood seemed to think his team’s current rut is a matter of mood, more than execution. “We have to quit riding the emotional roller coaster that is this team right now. It’s frustrating. I wish I had the exact answer. We’re going to have some very tough meetings”
Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois in points and assists, with 22 and 5 respectively. Dosunmu garnered two steals and committed just one turnover. He was 6-of-16 from the field. Adam Miller scored 14 points for the Illini.
Justin Ahrens, Seth Towns and Duane Washington Jr. all added 11 points for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State improves to 11-3 on the season, 5-3 in conference. The Illini drop to 9-5 overall, and 5-3 in the Big Ten. They return to action Tuesday night at home against Penn State. That game tips at 7:30 p.m. Central Time on BTN.