College Basketball Game of the Week: Ohio State vs. Illinois

Story posted March 5, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Matthew McLaughlin

In a massive Big Ten matchup, the No. 4 Illinois Fighting Illini will travel to Columbus to square off against the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes Friday afternoon in Value City Arena.

These teams are coming in with two completely different streaks as the Illini look to earn their fourth straight win while the Buckeyes will attempt to avoid their fourth straight loss. Ayo Dosumono, the Illini’s leading scorer, remains on the sidelines indefinitely with a broken nose, but the Illini offense is rolling going into this game.

In its last contest against the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines, the Illinois offense pounded the Michigan defense for 76 points in a 23-point victory. As “Stone Cold” Steve Austin used to say, Illinois “stomped a mudhole and walked it dry.”

On the other end of this matchup, Ohio State has lost its last three contests, but it is important to note that two of those games were against top ten programs, the aforementioned Wolverines and the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes.

Against the Hawkeyes, the Buckeyes simply could not hit key shots down the stretch, shooting less than 30 percent from downtown, which will severely hurt when playing against a sharpshooting team such as the Hawkeyes, but two key players to watch in this matchup are E.J. Liddell and Trent Frazier.

Going into this contest, Liddell has gotten in foul trouble the last couple of games and hasn’t scored over 20 points in his previous two games.

However, Liddell exploded the last time these two teams faced off, racking up 26 points, snatching four rebounds, and scorched the Illini defense shooting 57 percent from long range and 62.5 percent from the field overall.

Despite Liddell’s immense talent, the bench scored an abysmal 10 points COMBINED against Iowa. That type of production from a second unit will sink any team, let alone a program in one of the toughest conferences in the nation.

For Illinois, Frazier has been fantastic in the absence of leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu, putting up 22 points and picking up a pair of steals in Illinois’s last outing. Even if he’s not stuffing the stat sheet like Dosunmu, Frazier can step into rhythm during critical situations which has propelled this Illinois squad into one of the best programs in the country.

That being said, one member of the Illini that must produce in this game is Kofi Cockburn. The sophomore from Kingston, Jamaica has struggled without Dosunmu running pick-and-roll actions, but part of that has been head coach Brad Underwood changing up Illinois’s style due to Dosunmu’s injury.

Regardless, Cockburn only put up 12 points and dropped seven dimes in the contest at Michigan. With Cockburn’s 7’0” 285 pound frame, he should be dominating inside the paint but the Wolverines somehow contained Cockburn’s impact on the game. Look for Cockburn to be focused on dominating the middle and punishing Ohio State’s big men after a poor performance.

As the conference tournaments approach, there are two endings to this game: Illinois cements itself as an elite program in the nation, or Ohio State creates even more chaos in the rankings.

Illinois has smashed every glass ceiling and surpassed every obstacle put in front of it, so expect the Fighting Illini to grab another statement win.

Prediction: Illinois 85, Ohio State 70

Matthew McLaughlin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mem6936@psu.edu.