Jenna Smith shoots a jumper over Ohio State's Andrea Walker. Smith had 20 points and 10 rebounds in Illinois' win. (photo by Cary Frye)
Jan. 31, 2008
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Jolette Law's Fighting Illini got a much-needed victory and upset a nationally ranked opponent for the 14th straight season Thursday night, defeating #19 Ohio State 68-64 at Assembly Hall on a snowy, windy night in Champaign. The win snapped a four-game Illini losing skid and improved their record to 12-9 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten.
Sophomore forward Jenna Smith once again led the Illinois charge, collecting her 11th double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Junior Lori Bjork hit three-three pointers on her way to 16 points and was instrumental down the stretch.
The game was knotted at 54-54 with 6:22 left when the Illini went on a mini 6-0 run to open up some breathing room with just under five minutes to play. The Buckeyes closed to within three several times down the stretch, but unlike in previous close losses, the Illini had a response each time. First it was a bucket by Smith at the 1:26 mark to push the lead from three to five, and then the back-breaker came when Bjork hit a long jumper with 37 seconds left to make the score 66-61. Ohio State's Marscilla Packer hit a three on the next OSU possession to pull the guests within two, but Bjork hit two huge free throws with 12 seconds left to seal the victory.
For the Illini, who have endured four heartbreaking Big Ten losses that have come down to the final possession, including a 43-42 loss at Ohio State two weeks ago, the victory was sweet.
Senior Rebecca Harris scored 14 points and junior Chelsea Gordon 10 to join Smith and Bjork in double figures. Illinois committed a season-low eight turnovers on the night and held a big advantage from the free throw line, hitting 14-of-20 from the charity stripe to OSU's 5-of-6. The Illini were also effective in transition, scoring 19 points off of Ohio State turnovers.
Illinois came out hot in the game's opening minutes, scoring the first eight points and pushing out to a 13-4 lead with 14:56 to play after a three by Bjork. The Illini stretched their lead to 14 points, 27-13, on a lay-up by Bjork with 9:12 to go in the first half. But Ohio State nipped away at the advantage, outscoring Illinois 13-3 over the next five minutes to cut the Illini advantage to four points, 30-26, with 3:57 to play. Harris responded with a three-pointer, but the Buckeyes battled back to pull within 35-34 at the break.
Ohio State (16-5, 7-3) collected its first lead of the game with 17:55 remaining after a jumper by freshman Jantel Lavender gave the guests a 36-35 advantage. The Illini scored the next four points to retake the lead, and never let the Buckeyes get comfortable. Ohio State took a one-point lead on two other occasions, the last at 51-50 with 8:25 remaining, but the Illini responded both times with an immediate bucket.
Lavender led Ohio State with 19 points, while Packer hit four three-pointers and had 17.
Illinois will next travel to Michigan to take on the Wolverines on Monday, Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. CT for a match-up televised live on the Big ten Network.