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COLUMBUS, Ohio - At halftime Sunday, it was announced that if Ohio State made a 3-point basket in the first four minutes of the second half, every fan could pick up a coupon good for $1 off his or her next gasoline purchase at the nearby Speedway service station.

It was at Illinois' expense that 18,500 fans left the Value City Arena saying, "Fill 'er up."

Riding a shower of 3-pointers and the inside play of Terence Dials, No. 19 Ohio State shot down 10th-ranked Illinois 69-53 Sunday. Following its home court loss to Penn State eight days earlier, it's the first time Illinois (20-4) has suffered consecutive defeats since Jan. 10 and Jan. 14 of 2004, at the hands of Purdue and Northwestern.

Most of the damage was done by the Buckeye's starting guards Je'Kel Foster and Jamar Butler.

They combined for 11 of 14 3-pointers and were 10-for-10 at one point. Butler finished with 22 points, Dials 19 and Foster 18. Dials also had a career-high 16 rebounds.

Illini coach Bruce Weber had expressed disappointment in his team's effort in the second half of the Penn State game. This time he was disappointed in Illinois' first-half intensity.

"I thought we came out a little casual," Weber said. "Foster is hot and Butler might be the most improved player in the league. Between them they made 11 of 14 3s. Shoot, we've got guys who can't make free throws like that.

"But they're making big-time shots and playing at a very high level right now. They outplayed us. They out-fought us. Hey, they've got three fifth-year seniors and another senior. They're a good team."

It was Foster who hit back-to-back 3-pointers that jump started Ohio State (18-3) in the first half, putting Illinois in a permanent hole. And it was Butler who hit consecutive 3-pointers to begin the second half, winning free gas for the fans and dropping the Illini into a 43-26 hole just one minute into the second half.

Foster is the hottest shooter in the Big Ten, hitting 21 of 27 from behind the arc over the last four games.

"Sometimes we didn't get out on him quickly enough, but a couple of times we were right in his face and he hit them anyway," Illinois' Jamar Smith said of Foster.

The difference in the production of each team's starting guards was alarming. By the time Ohio State extended its lead to 20 points two minutes into the second half, Ohio State guards Foster and Butler had outscored Illinois' starting guards, Dee Brown and Rich McBride, 30-2.

Brown, who was summoned to the bench for one minute of the first half when Weber felt he was standing around too much on offense, finally got on track and finished with a team-high 12 points. James Augustine had 11 points and 13 rebounds, but did not score in the second half. McBride ended up making one of eight shots for three points.

An Illini offense that seemed to be making strides at the end of January now seems to have regressed.

"I thought in the first half Dee stood around and didn't get involved," Weber said. "We have to find a way to get him involved more early, whether it's with assists or by getting him jump shots."

Brown said Weber took him out of the game "because he wanted me to do more. He just pulled me aside and got in my ear." But, Brown said, "I did my job. I was getting the ball into the big guys. He said I wasn't moving so I guess I will have to work on that."

Illinois did rally back from its 20-point deficit, going on a 16-5 run that trimmed the Ohio State lead to 53-44 with 9:46 to go.

But consecutive baskets by Dials and a 3-pointer by Foster made it 60-44, pretty much ending hopes of a major comeback.

With the victory, Ohio State takes sole possession of second place in the Big Ten at 7-3 (trailing leader Iowa at 8-3). Illinois slips from second to a tie for fourth at 6-4.

Weber is now focusing a three-game cluster that begins at home Wednesday against Northwestern and includes games at home next Sunday against Indiana and two days later at Michigan.

"I told the guys a lot of craziness can happen in the Big Ten. It already has happened. All we can do is take care of our own business.

"We have a big stretch here, three games in a short period. Are we going to be in the thick of the race, or are we going to just flounder along worrying about getting into the NCAA Tournament?"

Mark Tupper can be reached at mtupper@herald-review.com

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