COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio State is heavy on freshmen and sophomores but needed it most experienced player to hold off Illinois 75-73 for its sixth straight win on Sunday.
Marc Loving, who had a career-high 27 points, had six straight points to carry Ohio State from a 61-59 deficit to a 65-61 lead with 2:21 to play thanks to a dunk, a 3-pointer and a foul shot.
He also added three free throws after that to seal the win for the Buckeyes (10-5, 2-0 Big Ten).
“As your lone upperclassman on the basketball team you hope that’s something you can continue to count on,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
While Loving was only 5 of 8 from the floor, he made a career-best 14 free throws on 19 attempts.
“It’s just the confidence my teammates have in me,” Loving said. “They put me in the right positions and I’m able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Illinois coach John Groce lamented the disparity in free throws. The Buckeyes hit 28 of 39 fouls shots off of 23 Illinois fouls. The Illini made 9 of 11 and were fouled 18 times.
“The things I have to look at on the film is we’re the 11th-ranked in the nation in defensive free throw rate and fewest fouls and there’s a 28 free-throw differentiation in the game,” Groce said. “Three of those times we fouled late and I understand six of the free throws. We’ve got to play a lot harder without fouling.
“That’s the highest number of free throws an opponent has shot against us this year. That was the difference in the game.”
Ohio State held a five-point lead when Michael Finke’s tip-in made it 70-67 with 23.3 seconds left. Jae-Sean Tate’s slam with 12.6 seconds left made 72-67 before Jalen Coleman-Lands hit a trey to pull Illinois (8-7, 0-2) within 72-70.
A pair of Loving free throws upped the score to 74-70 but Malcolm Hill hit another 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left. Loving made one of two foul shots and a desperation shot from midcourt by Hill at the buzzer missed.
JaQuan Lyle, who had no points or assists in the first half when he played less than two minutes because of foul trouble, had 14 points and five assists for the Buckeyes.
“My mindset coming in was that I was fresh” Lyle said. “Everyone else had been playing the whole first twenty minutes so I just took advantage of that.”
Keita Bates-Diop had 11 and Kam Williams added 10 for OSU.
Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Coleman-Lands and Finke all had 14 points for the Illini (8-7, 0-2).
Illinois: The Illini have lost seven in a row in Columbus, where they are 42-46 all-time.
Ohio State: OSU has won five straight against the Illini and 11 of 13. … Matta is 16-5 against Illinois, 10-1 in Columbus.
Illinois has gone four games without having a shot blocked and is first nationally in fewest shots blocked per possession. Conversely, the Buckeyes blocked nine, five by Daniel Giddens.
“You emphasize going into the game to be smart about how you attack a shot-blocking team,” Groce said. “But there were a couple where Giddens and those guys came out of nowhere and gave great effort to block shots.”
Illinois has junior guard Jaylon Tate. Ohio State has sophomore forward Jae-Sean Tate. Both wear No. 1. They are not related. The Illini’s Tate had four points, two less than his counterpart.
Illinois plays at No. 1 Michigan State on Thursday.
Ohio State is at Northwestern on Wednesday