COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- Matt Sylvester's clutch 3-pointer prevented the first undefeated season in the Big Ten Conference in 29 years.
Sylvester's deep 3-pointer with 5.3 seconds left capped a career-high 25-point effort and lifted Ohio State to a dramatic 65-64 victory over top-ranked and previously undefeated Illinois.
"Saying this was a big win would be the understatement of the night," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
Ohio State scored the last seven points. Illinois, trying to become the first Big Ten team to go undefeated in the regular since Indiana in 1975-76, was clinging to a 64-62 lead entering the Buckeyes' full timeout with 12.1 seconds remaining.
"In the huddle, coach Matta was telling us we were going to go for the win," Sylvester said. "I told him if I get the shot, I'm going to make it."
Using a pick from Terence Dials, Sylvester was found open on the right wing by Brandon Fuss-Cheatham and buried the eventual game-winning shot.
"We used Tony (Stockman) as a decoy, and most of their players thought he was getting the ball," Sylvester said. "Terence set a great screen, and before their players knew I had it, I let it go and it went in."
The Fighting Illini had a chance to answer, but Roger Powell's 3-pointer missed as time expired, prompting much of the sellout crowd at Value City Arena to spill onto the floor.
The victory was Ohio State's ninth straight when facing a ranked conference opponent in front of a sellout crowd.
Including the winning basket, Sylvester scored seven points during the Buckeyes' closing 20-9 run. His lefthanded layup with 1:40 remaining brought Ohio State (19-11, 8-8 Big Ten) within 64-62, its smallest deficit since early in the first half.
The victory, which came one day after Ohio State hired Gene Smith as its new athletic director, likely will be the high note of the season for the Buckeyes. The school, which will not play in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT due to a self-imposed ban, will face Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.
The ban, which came amid an investigation for NCAA rules violations, was announced December 9 - the same day the school signed Matta to a one-year extension through the 2011-12 season.
"I couldn't be happier for these players, with everything they have been through ... as a team," said Matta, whose Xavier Musketeers last year prevented St. Joseph's from being the first team since Nevada-Las Vegas in 1990-91 to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. "The committment they have to the program is amazing. I told them going into the game they were going to have to give every ounce of everything they have."
Dials had 21 points, including six during the closing run, and eight rebounds for the Buckeyes, who improved to 15-2 at home. Ohio State, which defeated then-No. 1 Indiana in overtime, 81-77, on February 23, 1993, has won the last two times it has hosted the top-ranked team in the nation.
"I'm speechless right now," Dials said. "Beating the No. 1 team in the nation on senior night on your home court, there is no better feeling. I'm really at a loss for words."
Dee Brown scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half for Illinois (29-1, 15-1), which was trying for its first undefeated regular season since 1914-15.
James Augustine did his best to keep the Illini's unblemished record from slipping away, scoring Illinois' final seven points. Augustine, who scored nine points overall, gave the Illini a 64-58 lead on a two-handed dunk with 3:23 remaining.
Illinois missed its last four shots, including three from the arc.
"In the second half, we did not execute down the stretch," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who suffered just his eighth defeat in 63 games. "We thought we could break them in those last five seconds, but Sylvester was able to hit the shot."
Illinois used an early 11-0 run to cruise to a 38-27 halftime lead. It held a 55-45 advantage with 10:22 remaining before Ohio State began its closing surge.
Powell recorded 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Illini, who had won their previous 14 road games. The school will face either Northwestern or Michigan in the second round of the conference tournament Friday.
"It's hard to play on the road," Weber said. "It is something we can learn from. We were going to lose sooner or later and that happened to be today. I would rather lose now than in three weeks."