Lindsey Fox / Asst. multimedia editor
The Ohio State men’s basketball team continued its struggle in road tests, falling to Illinois 79-74 thanks to a 43-point outburst from junior Illini guard Brandon Paul.
The Buckeyes went scoreless for the first 2:26 of the game, but a layup by senior guard William Buford put the Buckeyes on the board and OSU trailed 4-2 early.
OSU rebounded and to take the lead, but Illinois started off red hot from the floor as the home team shot 60 percent in the first half including 15 first-half points from Paul.
With Illinois trailing 23-15 with 9:17 remaining in the first half, Paul scored the game’s next four baskets, which included a pair of shots from behind the arc to give his team a 25-23 lead.
The Buckeyes didn’t roll over and sophomore forwards Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger responded with a run of their own.
Thomas made a layup and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions. Sullinger followed it up with a powerful move inside and finished despite being fouled. He sunk the free throw, called for the ball on the next possessions and nailed step-back 3-pointer over 7-foot-1 Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard.
It was Sullinger’s second 3-pointer of the half and it gave OSU a 34-29 lead.
OSU led 39-34 at half and Sullinger and Thomas went into the locker room with 13 points and 11 points, respectively.
But Illinois wasn’t done.
After a Buford dunk put OSU up 54-47, Illinois scored the game’s next 10 points behind Paul’s continued sharp shooting.
Paul made back-to-back 3-pointers and was fouled by sophomore guard Aaron Craft on his next attempt. He made two out of three shots from the line and the Illini had a 57-54 lead.
The teams traded baskets and the score was all square at 66 with less than three minutes to play.
Paul again stepped up big for the Illini, connecting on his seventh triple of the night to put his team up 69-66.
On the very next possession, Sullinger banked in a shot from the left block. He was fouled, but missed the free throw and OSU trailed 69-68.
With 43 seconds left and his team up one, Paul again connected on a 3-pointer, this time as the shot clock expired.
Sullinger made a 2-pointer just outside the key on the ensuing possession and OSU trailed 74-72.
OSU fouled on the in-bounds pass and after Paul made a pair of free throws, Craft had the ball stolen on the next trip down the floor.
Illinois continued to sink their free throws and emerged victorious, defeating the Buckeyes 79-74.
Thomas led the Buckeyes with 23 points and Sullinger added 21.
The loss drops OSU to 15-3 on the season and 3-2 in Big Ten play.
They head back to Columbus to take on No. 7 Indiana on Sunday. Tip is set for 4:30 p.m.