"In the first half, I thought we played well, but didn't make shots,'' Groce said. "I thought we defended well and had great energy.''
Ohio State (20-6 overall, 7-6 in the Big Ten) went on a 11-4 run in the final 10 minutes of the first half to close with three points.
That proved to be a sign of things to come in the second half for Illinois.
The Buckeyes needed just one possession in the second half to tie the game at 23-23 as LaQuinton Ross drilled a 3-pointer just 24 seconds in the second half.
Over the next eight minutes, Illinois lost its lead but the Illini got back within 30-29 on two free throws by Abrams with 12:18 left. Ohio State was 2-for-4 behind the arc during that opening eight minutes after making just 1-of-8 in the first half. Aaron Craft, who had a game-high 14 points, had the other 3-pointer for Ohio State.
"I thought Q's 3 to open up the second half and Aaron's 3 was huge for us,'' said Ohio State coach Thad Matta, the native of Hoopeston. "Those are the type of plays that we need to make to get ignited. The biggest thing we did was we kept defending.''
Ohio State turned its 1-point lead (30-29) into a 42-29 advantage with a 12-0 run fueled by six Illinois turnovers, including three steals by the Buckeyes' Shannon Scott.
"It was that small window in a low-possession game, a low-scoring game, when they went on a 12-nothing run,'' Groce said. "I thought that affected how the game was played out at the end.
"I sensed a little bit of discouragement with some guys over the offensive end. Some of that is maturity.''
Illinois junior center Nnanna Egwu, who had six points and a game-high 14 rebounds, said that the leaders need to get that changed.