CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Ameryst Alston and Kelsey Mitchell knew they needed to take the ball to the basket in the fourth quarter. Once they did, Ohio State's offense started to click and the momentum began to shift.
Alston scored 24 points, Mitchell had 22 and the seventh-ranked Buckeyes needed a late push to beat upset-minded Illinois 80-70 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.
The Buckeyes (17-4, 9-1 Big Ten) shot 44 percent from the field and struggled to pull away from the last-place Illini (8-13, 1-9) until Mitchell's seven fourth-quarter points silenced Illinois.
Illinois center Chatrice White had 26 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Brooke Kissinger scored a career-high 15 on five 3-pointers.
Ohio State forward Alexa Hart helped slow down the Illini offense in the fourth quarter. She finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks while holding White in check down the stretch.
Hart was a necessary presence for the Buckeyes, who were without forward Shayla Cooper due to what coach Kevin McGuff said was a "coach's decision" that "certainly impacted us."
Alston and Mitchell made the difference on the offensive end with 22 of Ohio State's 31 second-half points, many of their baskets answering Illinois scores.
"They're a great duo," White said. "Ohio State's lucky to have them both."
Ohio State built a 49-41 lead at halftime behind an 11-0 run late in the second quarter. But the Illini stormed back, holding the Buckeyes' high-scoring offense to 10 points in the third period.
Illinois regained the lead at 52-51 on a 3-pointer by redshirt senior Kyley Simmons that beat the shot clock and sent the crowd into a frenzy midway through the third.
Ohio State: McGuff said Cooper will return to the lineup. She has played in 19 games and is averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Illinois: The Illini have lost 12 of 13 games. They opened the season 8-1 but have won only once (Jan. 17 vs. Wisconsin) since Dec. 12. "We'll get a win eventually," Kissinger said. ... Illinois forced 11 turnovers. ... Kissinger is averaging 11.4 points in Illinois' last five games.
ONE OF THE BEST
Mitchell, a sophomore, entered ranked third in the nation in scoring (25.3 points per game) and fifth with 68 3-pointers. She set the NCAA single-season record for 3s last year as a freshman.
White racked up her 13th double-double of the season. She has 208 rebounds in 21 games and entered ranked second in the Big Ten with 9.9 boards per game.
Ohio State hosts Wisconsin on Thursday.
Illinois hosts Northwestern on Thursday.
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