The dream run by the Ohio State men’s basketball team in the Big Ten Tournament came to an end Friday night. The #10 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes succumbed to the #2 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini in a fiercely contested battle, with the scoreboard reading 77-74 at the final buzzer. It marked only the second loss for the Buckeyes under the stewardship of interim head coach Jake Diebler, who took over following the departure of Chris Holtmann.

From the tip, it was evident that Illinois arrived with fresh legs, thanks in large part to the double bye they enjoyed as the second ranked team in the tournament. The Illini’s aggressive, physical approach, particularly in attacking the rim during the first half, forced Ohio State’s starters into early foul trouble. Coach Diebler found himself turning to his bench earlier and more frequently than anticipated, disrupting his rotation.

Despite the adversity, Ohio State remained resilient, trailing by a narrow margin of 31-29 at halftime. Ohio State had to grind through a clash with Iowa in the second round just a day earlier, which made their first half efforts even more impressive.

As the second half wore on, the Buckeyes continued surprise, even capturing the lead late. Maybe if was the fact that Illinois was fresher, maybe it was their physicality, or maybe a little bit of both, but the Buckeyes finally succumbed to the pressure and the Illini finally grabbed the lead in the final minute of play.

“I’m really proud with how our guys fought all the way till the end against who I think is one of the top 10 to 15 teams in the country. I loved the aggressiveness in which we played with. We kept fighting, we kept swinging, and we stayed aggressive. A couple bounces here or there could have been the difference in the game.”

Interim Head Coach Jake Diebler

Jamison Battle and Bruce Thornton emerged as the offensive anchors for Ohio State, contributing 21 and 20 points, respectively. However, the lack of double-digit scoring from other key players limited the Buckeyes’ offensive potency.

With the loss, Ohio State finds itself on uncertain ground regarding its NCAA tournament prospects. Many experts had posited that a victory in this crucial game was imperative for the Buckeyes to bolster their case for an at-large bid. Now, their fate hangs in the balance, pending the selection committee’s decision on Selection Sunday.

“I think we have played ourselves into a conversation. Our guys have earned the right, in my opinion, to play in the post season. If you go back, I don’t think anyone thought we would be here. Today didn’t finish the way we wanted it to. We wanted to keep playing in this Big Ten Tournament, which is such a great tournament. But our guys have earned the right certainly.”

Jake Diebler

Regardless of the tournament outcome, Ohio State’s late-season surge and remarkable turnaround under Coach Diebler’s guidance deserve commendation. From seemingly dire straits, the Buckeyes transformed into formidable contenders, showcasing their resilience and determination on the court.

As the basketball world eagerly awaits the unveiling of the NCAA tournament brackets, Ohio State remains hopeful yet prepared for any eventuality. Should their name be omitted, the Buckeyes stand ready to embrace the challenge of the NIT Tournament, determined to continue their journey with unwavering resolve.