COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State coach Thad Matta helped his former assistant, John Groce, get the job at Illinois.
Now Groce and the Fighting Illini may have done a return favor to Matta and the Buckeyes by forcing them out of a leaky zone defense.
D'Angelo Russell scored 22 points, including eight during a decisive 15-0 second-half run, to lead No. 20 Ohio State past Illinois 77-61 on Saturday.
The Buckeyes (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten) trailed by eight in the first half and by three in the early minutes of the second.
They turned the tide with an attacking, opportunistic man-to-man defense instead of the 2/3 zone they'd played all season.
"They shot us out of it, to be honest with you," Matta said, referring in particular to Rayvonte Rice who scored 20 points on 7 of 8 shooting. "It's like we told our guys, it wasn't like they were shooting 21-footers. They were shooting from 24 feet and they were going in."
"You can sell out a little more, pressure the ball a little more," said Thompson of the Buckeyes' aggressiveness in the second half that led to 13 Illinois turnovers. "We just wanted to fly around and try and disrupt them."
After Russell hit a 3 to tie it, substitute big man Trey McDonald made two free throws for the Buckeyes' first lead of the day.
Loving scored three points and Thompson tipped in an inbounds pass before Russell saved a ball going out of bounds by flipping it behind his back to Loving, who then passed to Russell for an easy layup.
Russell's 3 after a five-second call on an Illinois inbounds play made it 56-44. Illinois never threatened again.
"This one's pretty simple: 20 turnovers and we gave up 60 percent from the field," Groce said. "We weren't able to defend them from start to finish. The second half, not taking anything away from them because they played really well, but it was the worst basketball we've played all season."
Illinois: Despite coming in with a 43-40 lead in the series in games played on the Buckeyes' home court, they were just 1-17 against ranked Ohio State teams in Columbus. The Illini fell to just 2-12 at Value City Arena.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes football team and head coach Urban Meyer were introduced during the opening half and were greeted with a 50-second standing ovation. Ohio State (13-1) meets Oregon (13-1) in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"I couldn't hear nothing coach Matta said in the huddle," Russell said with a smile. "It got louder than it's ever got. I'm like, dang, are THEY playing now? It was a great experience."
It was the second time this week the Illini lost a game after a football ceremony. Michigan beat the Illini 73-65 in overtime in the Big Ten opener on Tuesday after it introduced its new football coach, Jim Harbaugh, during the game.
SWITCHING TACTICS: Matta sounded as if he had changed his approach on the man defense after the game.
"So, do we stick with it? Yeah," he said. "But I know we've got some zone that we can play as well when we need it."
QUOTE OF THE GAME: Thompson, on the Buckeyes football team: "We were all inspired by the way they came out and played (in the national semifinal against Alabama). We really took it upon ourselves to try and play like them, to buy in the way they all bought in. I think we did that today."
Illinois: The Illini, who play four of their first five Big Ten games on the road, return home to host No. 12 Maryland on Wednesday night.
Ohio State: After playing 13 of its first 15 games at home (and losing both of those not at home), the Buckeyes hit the road for four of their next five Big Ten games including at Minnesota on Tuesday night.
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