CHICAGO — Ohio State got a significant boost Wednesday when freshman Luther Muhammad was declared healthy and available to play against Illinois.
It got an even bigger one to start the second half. After the No. 19 Buckeyes endured a brutal close to the first half in which the Fighting Illini took a 38-34 lead into their locker room at the United Center, Ohio State put Kaleb Wesson back into the game after he sat for most of the final eight minutes due to foul trouble.
It steadied an offense that was nonexistent without him. Wesson drew three fouls and scored the first four points of the second half as Ohio State adjusted, defended and persevered to fend off the upset challenge from Illinois 77-67 in men’s basketball.
After Wesson’s early baskets, Ohio State (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten) took control when it started to take control of the ball. Behind 51-48, Muhammad was fouled after getting an offensive rebound, and that put the Buckeyes in the bonus with 13:53 to play.
He made both free throws and, after a Kipper Nichols miss, Duane Washington scored on an underhanded scoop from inside the paint to give Ohio State a 52-51 lead with 13:25 to go.
It was the start of a 6-0 spurt that grew into a 15-2 run that just kept growing. When Muhammad went to the line with 6:47 left and the lead at 67-55, Illinois had committed 14 fouls during the half while only scoring 17 points. It was a game powered by Keyshawn Woods, who bounced back from a scoreless game to lead Ohio State with 18 points.
It wasn’t until about an hour before the game that Muhammad was declared available after suffering a dislocated left shoulder one week prior against Syracuse.
It helped early on, and the Buckeyes looked comfortable against Illinois’ pressure while building a 30-22 lead. But with Wesson on the bench after picking up his second foul and taking a seat with 8:55 left, the Buckeyes lost their anchor inside and Illinois took advantage.
For the final 7:47 of the half, Ohio State made just one more field goal and added two free throws while committing eight turnovers as Illinois rallied and took a 38-34 lead.
Things spiraled for the Buckeyes during a stretch in which freshman Duane Washington Jr. was benched in favor of former walk-on Joey Lane after throwing a behind-the-back pass into the media section, coach Chris Holtmann earned his first technical foul of the season and senior guard C.J. Jackson gave up turnovers on consecutive possessions.
By the break, the Illini (2-7, 0-2) had turned 10 Ohio State turnovers into 15 points.