No. 11 Illinois bounced back from a loss in its Big Ten opener by blowing out No. 8 Ohio State.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Just before halftime Saturday, Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams crashed into the Ohio State bench chasing a loose ball. After bending over in pain for a while, he hobbled off the court without the ball.
Abrams’ tough play already had the respect of first-year coach John Groce.
And after a game of similar hard-nosed effort by Abrams and teammates, the 11th-ranked Illini had a 74-55 blowout victory over No. 8 Ohio State days after dropping their Big Ten Conference opener — and getting out-toughed, as Groce put it — to Purdue.
“Oh, I love it — that’s toughness plays, passion, inspiring plays,” Groce said.
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“Any time a guy sacrifices his body to make a play for his team, that’s the highest level of teamism — I don’t know if that’s a word.”
The victory by Illinois (14-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) came at the expense of Groce’s former boss, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta.
Groce was an assistant to Matta at Ohio State before taking over as coach at Ohio.
Brandon Paul led Illinois with 19 points and had seven rebounds.
Wednesday’s 68-61 loss to Purdue — a team with a .500 record heading into Big Ten play — was Illinois’ second loss in three games after a 12-0 start.
It left the Illini and their fans with questions about how good this team might be and, with Ohio State on the schedule, a seemingly demanding test to come.
The Buckeyes (11-3, 1-1) had won six of the last seven games between the teams.
But the Illini started fast and led 37-25 at halftime. They used a 13-2 run early in the second half to build a 50-27 lead.
“We got some points off turnovers in the first half that I think ignited us,” Groce said.
Other Top 10 game
At No. 1 Duke 80,
Wake Forest 62
Ryan Kelly scored a season-high 22 points and Seth Curry also had 22 as the Blue Devils (14-0) beat the Demon Deacons (7-6) in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.