That’s your one-word review of Ohio State’s 86-83 win at Illinois late Thursday night, which was a game that will be replayed on random summer nights for as long as the Big Ten Network is on the air.

Though I wouldn’t consider it the best Big Ten game of the season for a few reasons we’ll delve into, only Purdue’s 96-88 double-overtime win over the Fighting Illini on Jan. 17 produced more thrills. This was everything you’d want from a matchup of Big Ten title contenders.

All of this is likely a revelation to anyone who went to bed early, which just might be a considerable chunk of the original viewing audience.

Ohio State led by 12 at the under-8 minute media timeout, which took place with 6:17 remaining in the game. That lead promptly grew to 16 since it was precipitated by Illinois coach Brad Underwood getting ejected after losing his ever-loving mind when Coleman Hawkins was called for an offensive foul.

If there were any fans who didn’t think the game was over at that point, surely they hit the hay when Illinois all-American Kofi Cockburn fouled out with 4:22 to go. The Illini were down by 14 and without their best player or their head coach.

That’s when things got bananas. Nearly as bananas as the most iconic moment in Illinois basketball history — the stunning 15-point comeback against Arizona in the final 4 minutes of the 2005 Chicago Regional final.

In a little over 2 minutes, Illinois hit the Buckeyes with a 14-2 flurry that trimmed the lead to a basket. But Illinois never got over the hump, because Ohio State did what great teams do.

They made free throws.

The Buckeyes hit a lucky 13 straight from the line until Kyle Young finally missed the first of his 2 attempts with 9 seconds remaining.

It appeared to be a crucial miss, setting up Illinois for a chance to either tie the game or win it with a 3. But Illini point guard Trent Frazier threw the ball out of bounds after drawing considerable contact from Ohio State forward EJ Liddell.

Just like that, the potential B1G game of the year ended with a thud.

An unfortunate ending

The final 4 minutes of this game deserved a true buzzer-beating moment, or overtime. But that didn’t happen thanks to one common thread that kept it from being the best Big Ten game of the year.

This game wasn’t officiated in a manner befitting two championship contenders.

The Big Ten is a physical conference. So it feels safe to say the officials would usually swallow the whistle for contact like Frazier drew from Liddell.

But that wasn’t how this particular game was called. At all. Both Illinois big men, Cockburn and Hawkins, fouled out.

Cockburn’s 5th foul was especially galling. Replay indicated contact with nothing but the ball. Even Jim Jackson, a proud Ohio State alum working the game for BTN, was quick to point out that it was a blown call.

Remember, that happened 2 minutes after Underwood was ejected for arguing with officials. For a second time.

Ohio State went to the line 15 times more than Illinois. To be clear, most of that margin had to do with the Illini launching 25 3-point attempts while Ohio State attacked inside more aggressively. But the Illini were certainly hit with a number of ticky-tack calls in that process.

And when it came time for the Illini to get a ticky-tack call of their own at the end, it didn’t happen.

But some questionable fouls aren’t why Ohio State won Thursday night. To insist that’s the case insults the brilliance of Malaki Branham.

Malaki Branham: B1G freshman of the year?

It has thus far been a pretty tepid season for freshmen in the Big Ten.

At the start of February, Nebraska’s Trey McGowens was the runaway leader for B1G freshman of the year, and probably the only freshman who looked capable of making the all-Big Ten third team.

Now Branham is gaining on McGowens. Fast.

Branham dropped a career-high 31 points on the Illini. And that’s a thing people simply don’t do against Illinois.

The Illini lead the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage on defense. They are second in 2-point field goal percentage and defensive efficiency. Branham managed to score more on Illinois than national player of the year candidates Bennedict Mathurin (30), Johnny Davis (22) and Keegan Murray (19).

Thursday’s performance continues a torrid stretch that could make the Buckeyes one of the most dangerous teams in the NCAA Tournament. Branham scored 27 against Indiana and 22 against Iowa in Ohio State’s 2 prior games. And Indiana is the only Big Ten team with a better defense than Illinois.

Which means Branham may be poised to take off this March.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, even if it took a moment to get here. Branham was the first Ohio Mr. Basketball out of Akron’s St. Mary-St. Vincent High since LeBron James. Ohio State temporarily unretired Jim Jackson’s No. 22 for his benefit.

And between Branham and Liddell, the Buckeyes are one of the few teams in the Big Ten with 2 players capable of dropping 30 any night.

Ohio State keeps title hopes alive

Though Ohio State has been near the top of the Big Ten standings all season, the Buckeyes have often felt like the outlier.

Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin and even for a time Michigan State seemed more likely contenders. That’s because the Buckeyes had the appearance of a 1-man gang led by Liddell. But with Branham’s emergence, they are turning into something much more capable.

At the very least, a share of the Big Ten title is in play. Ohio State has a fairly soft landing. The Buckeyes visit Maryland before closing with 3 straight home games against Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan.

Illinois, also a game out of first, has a tough test at Michigan on Sunday. The Illini close with Penn State and Iowa at home.

Purdue and Wisconsin are the only teams ahead of Ohio State. One of them is guaranteed a loss. The Boilermakers visit Madison in the potential game of the year on March 1.

Purdue also visits a desperate Michigan State this weekend before finishing with Indiana at home the following weekend.

The Badgers close with a surefire win against Nebraska, but have to visit Rutgers before hosting Purdue.

When you add all of that together, there’s a possibility Ohio State could be the lone team atop the Big Ten at the end of the regular season.

And even if they aren’t, the Buckeyes may well head to Indianapolis as the Big Ten’s hottest team.