Scores

Final

(1) Illinois 64

(29-1, 15-1 Big Ten)

Ohio State 65

(19-11, 8-8 Big Ten)

12:00 PM ET, March 6, 2005

Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio

1 2 T
#1ILL 38 2664
OSU 27 3865

Top Performers

Illinois: L. Head 12 Pts, 7 Reb, 6 Ast, 1 Stl

Ohio State: T. Dials 21 Pts, 8 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk

Sylvester's 3-pointer beats the Illini

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Their perfect season gone, the next challenge for the Illini is turning a loss into a lesson.

Pat Forde's take
About that mortal lock ...

OK, so I was perfectly wrong in predicting Illinois' perfect season. But this stunning come-from-ahead loss to Ohio State could still end up being good news for the Illini.

You might recall my pronouncement a while back that the Illini were a dead-solid cinch to roll unbeaten through the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament. That went goodbye in Columbus, and now Illinois can say hello to mortality.

That's not a bad thing.

In this day and age, no team needs the burden of being unbeaten going into the NCAA Tournament. This isn't 1976, when Indiana was rolling 32 straight. March Madness was still a niche phenomenon then, not the multi-billion-dollar national festival it is now.

The media and public fixation on a 33-0 Illinois in the Big Dance would be overwhelming. Every press conference would feature multiple questions about running the table, about the perfect record, about completing The Quest. There would be no hiding from the pressure.

Now Illinois can simply get on with the business of chasing the national title. For a program that has never won one, that's enough.

And this loss should puncture any illusions of invincibility that had built up for Illinois, another handy lesson. The way the Illini seemed to relax after every burst they put on the Buckeyes gave the appearance that they're expecting teams to submit, rather than forcing them to do so.

Humility might sharpen a killer instinct dulled by too many easy wins in a bad Big Ten. I saw it happen with Kentucky in 1996, which refocused after having a 27-game winning streak stopped in the SEC tournament final and then went on to win the national title. This could potentially provide the same boost to Illinois.

Meanwhile, the '76 Hoosiers remain The Last Unbeaten. They're not as crass as the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who bust out the champagne every year when the last NFL unbeaten loses, but they're every bit as secure in their legacy.

Illinois '05 was no Indiana '76. And now we have the defeat that proves it.

"Everyone says a loss will help. We'll find out," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We'll learn from it and move on. This next stretch is the most important of the year and that's what people are going to remember."

Ohio State reserve forward Matt Sylvester hit a 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left on Sunday to hand the top-ranked Illini their first defeat, 65-64.

The Illini (29-1, 15-1) were trying to cap the Big Ten's first unbeaten season in 29 years. Instead, they frittered away a 12-point lead in the second half and didn't score over the final 3 minutes.

Sylvester scored a career-high 25 points -- eight more than his previous best -- for a team that was banned by its own administrators from the postseason two months ago to mitigate possible NCAA violations committed under former coach Jim O'Brien.

"We were in the huddle and Coach told us, 'We're not going halfway. We're going for the win," Sylvester said.

First-year coach Thad Matta drew up a play in which center Terence Dials set a pick and rolled to the basket and guard Tony Stockman was used as a decoy. The Illini bit on the deception.

"As we left the huddle, Matt said, 'I'll make the shot," Matta said. "And he did."

Ohio State (19-12, 8-8), a team with problems all year hanging onto the ball, didn't have a turnover in the second half. The Illini, who had hurdled tough games in loud environments all season, had seven turnovers after halftime.

"We didn't take care of the ball and they made all the plays at the end," Illinois center Jack Ingram said. "They won it."

It was the second straight season a team coached by Matta ended a run at perfection. Matta's Xavier team handed Saint Joseph's its first loss last season in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

"I'd like to be the other team just one time," Matta said with a laugh. "I'm living for the day I'm the No. 1 team and someone else is trying to do it to us."

The last team to reach the NCAA tournament without a loss was UNLV in 1991. On Saturday, Matta had shown his players film clips of several huge upsets and the Rebels' loss to Duke in the national semifinals that year was one of them.

The Illini led 64-58 after James Augustine's layup with 3:23 left -- but didn't score again.

The Buckeyes ran off the next seven points, with Dials, who had 21 points, scoring on a half-hook before Sylvester drove the lane for a left-handed scoop to cut the lead to 64-62 with 1:40 remaining.

"They were loosey-goosey," Weber said of the Buckeyes. "They didn't quit. They're an NCAA tournament team. Playing on their home court, they made the plays."

With just over a minute left, Illinois' Deron Williams drove the lane and wrapped a pass around a defender to Roger Powell, but Dials swatted the shot away to teammate Je'Kel Foster. Sylvester missed a 15-footer for the Buckeyes and then Illinois' Luther Head misfired on a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left.

Ohio State called a timeout with 12 seconds left. Foster inbounded to Brandon Fuss-Cheatham who passed to Sylvester on the right wing, in front of the Ohio State bench. His quick shot seemed to surprise the Illini, nestling in the net while a capacity crowd at Value City Arena roared.

"The other day I was in the gym with Brandon and I said, 'Wouldn't it be unbelievable to score 25 points and hit the game-winner against Illinois?" Sylvester said. "This feels so good I can't describe it."

After a timeout, a pass was tipped out of bounds in front of the Illinois bench. The Illini had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left. Williams passed to Powell, but his hurried 3-pointer from the top of the circle was well short and off the mark.

Fans rushed the court after the buzzer sounded, snapping photos, jumping up and down and slapping the Buckeyes on the back.

Dee Brown led the Illini with 13 points, although he was rattled all day by chants of "air ball" after several errant second-half shots. He was 3-of-11 from the field and had only five points over the final 34 minutes. Powell and Head each added 12 points.

Williams, who came in averaging 12.8 points a game, was 1-of-7 from the field and finished with two points.

"They just outplayed us," Brown said. "They deserved it."

Foster added 10 points for Ohio State, which enters this week's Big Ten tournament as the No. 6 seed. After that, the Buckeyes will head home.

Matta was asked if the victory over Illinois makes his team's postseason ban even more difficult to accept.

"Yeah. I thought we could win the national championship," he joked. "And nobody's ever going to know."

The Illini will regroup, playing as the team to beat in the conference tournament and then in the NCAA tournament.

"I'd rather lose now than three weeks from now," Weber said.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
ILL
OSU
Points 64 65
FG Made-Attempted 23-60 (.383) 23-53 (.434)
3P Made-Attempted 5-19 (.263) 4-16 (.250)
FT Made-Attempted 13-19 (.684) 15-21 (.714)
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 17 (0/0) 14 (0/0)
Largest Lead 12 1

2004-05 Season

DATEGAMELINKS
Jan 5, 2005 @ILL 84, OSU 65Recap
» Mar 6, 2005 @OSU 65, ILL 64Recap