CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — E.J. Liddell scored 26 points and No. 21 Ohio State beat No. 14 Illinois 87-81 in a brutal Big Ten matchup on Saturday.
The game was especially physical in the second half. One technical was called, on Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr., and the officials had to step in many times to avoid fights.
Illinois, often mentioned as a possible Final Four team, sustained back-to-back losses for the first time this season.
“We had tremendous respect for this Illinois team and came in knowing they were coming off a tough loss (to unranked Maryland),” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “It’s obviously a win we feel proud of and are excited about.”
“Kofi needs to get used to that,” a clearly frustrated Underwood said. “I have to give (Ohio State) credit. They came in here and smacked us in the mouth.”
Liddell sang Cockburn’s praises after the game.
“Kofi is a fast dude. He gets position really well. He’s really good,” Liddell said of the 7-footer from Jamaica. “Our focus was the defensive end. We did everything on defense, got stops, so that helped our momentum on offense.”
Liddell and Ohio State managed to confound Illinois big man Cockburn for most of the game. It was arguably the worst half for Illinois this season, other than perhaps the Jan. 7 Northwestern game, when Illinois also trailed by 15 before rallying to win.
“There will be some rough meetings this week,” Underwood said. “We can’t have anymore of these flat, lifeless, noncompetitive games. We’re one of the best teams in the country and we need to start showing it.”