COLUMBUS, Ohio — With Illinois leading by 11 points with 8:45 left in the first half, Ohio's State's Keita Bates-Diop went to work.
Playing in his 100th game for the Buckeyes, University High School graduate Bates-Diop reeled off 11 unanswered points including a pair of dunks, a 3-pointer and a tip-in off an offensive rebound. No. 17 Ohio State ended the half up by four and outlasted the pesky Illini in the second half to win 75-67 on Sunday.
There were other outstanding moments in the game for Bates-Diop, who finished with a career-high 35 points. His 13 rebounds gave him his 10th double-double of the season.
He drained a 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the game to tie the score at 63. He made 13 of 15 free throws, including three in a row in the final 37 seconds to seal the game for the Buckeyes.
"I think Keita showed why he's MVP of the league," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "We knew that coming in. He's a very, very difficult matchup for us."
Jae'Sean Tate scored 11 points, and Kaleb Wesson had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Buckeyes (20-5, 11-1), who have won three straight and 10 of their last 11. They move on to a showdown with No. 3 Purdue on Wednesday to determine first place in the Big Ten.
It was anything but easy for the Buckeyes, who were playing without suspended guard Kam Williams. They committed 15 turnovers that would lead to 16 Illinois points and were just 3 for 16 from beyond the 3-point line. They wouldn't get the game in hand until Wesson grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back up to open the lead to 72-67 with 48 seconds left.
"That one was as tough as it comes," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said.
The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Illini (12-12, 2-9), who have yet to come away with a road victory this season. Mark Alstork paced Illinois with 19 points, and Trent Frazier chipped in 12.
Holtmann, in his first year at Ohio State after a successful run at Butler, now has won 20 or more games in each of his last five full years as a head coach.
Illinois: The Illini hustled but didn't have enough to beat the more talented Buckeyes. The result was another disappointing loss in a game they could have won.
"I feel bad for our guys," Underwood said. "We are playing good enough basketball to beat anybody in this league. I really believe that."
Ohio State: A team near the bottom of the Big Ten gave the Buckeyes a scare. Did they miss Williams, whose suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules was announced hours before the game? Or were they looking ahead to Purdue?
"We were glad to get the win, to be honest," Bates-Diop said.
KAM COULD BE BACK
Holtmann wouldn't disclose what Williams did wrong but said he expects the senior averaging 8 points per game to return.
"We expect him back at some point," Holtmann said. "But it's going to be kind of a day-to-day decision."
In his place, sophomore Andre Wesson started next his brother Kaleb, a true freshman, for the first time since an Ohio high school championship game in 2016 when both were key players for Westerville South in the Columbus suburbs. That game also was played at Value City Arena in Columbus.