5 crucial observations from the Illinois basketball win over Ohio State

Jan 30, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Ty Rodgers (20) goes to the
Jan 30, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Ty Rodgers (20) goes to the / Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
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2. Illinois freshmen played some big minutes

There is a good chance you read the headline of this slide and ask what the heck I am talking about. The Illini freshmen played some big minutes? They barely saw the floor, how could they play big minutes?

Amani Hansberry and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn saw action for Illinois against Ohio State, and I believe they were big parts of this victory. Without them on the court, who knows where momentum would have swung?

With just five minutes to go in the first half, this was a game. Ohio State and Illinois were going back and forth, and the lead was changing by the possession. At this time, Ohio State had a one-point lead. Brad Underwood decided to sub in Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn.

A minute later, Gibbs-Lawhorn was joined by Amani Hansberry. Both freshmen were on the court at the same time on the road in the Big Ten in a game that was swinging back and forth. That pressure had to be incredible, but pressure makes diamonds.

From the time Gibbs-Lawhorn checked into the game with 5:04 to go in the first half until halftime, Illinois completely turned the feel of this game.

Illinois went from being down one point to having a seven-point halftime lead over Ohio State. The Buckeyes were in this game, but when the freshmen stepped on the court, Illinois started to pull away.

Underwood was able to go to his bullpen and use Hansberry when Coleman Hawkins got into foul trouble. In the four minutes Hansberry was on the court, he was solid defensively and he made a great shot and was able to get to the free throw line. He finished with two points on the night.

The fact Gibbs-Lawhorn saw any time was impressive. Illinois has plenty of guard action, but Gibbs-Lawhorn, much like last game against Indiana, brings great energy and can out-hustle anyone on the court. He didn’t register any points, but his presence helped the Illini surge ahead.

If you look at the box score, you will think I am out of my mind. These two freshmen didn’t put up much in the way of numbers, but their presence on the court elevated the Illini.