Ohio State became the first school to win five Big Ten tournament championships with a 50-43 win over No. 4 seed Wisconsin Sunday afternoon at Chicago’s United Center.
“As I told the team afterwards, I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a basketball team in terms of you look at this tournament and you look at this league, and we've gone 21 straight games, and to be standing atop of it today, last college basketball game of the regular season, incredible,” said OSU coach Thad Matta.
“That was a hard‑fought basketball game. I thought both teams were exhausted. We were challenging our guys every timeout to tell them you've got one more gear, you've got one more gear, and fortunately for us, we made some big plays and finally knocked a couple shots down.
“The defense was as good as it could possibly be. This was a great, great win for our program, great win for our university, and I'm elated.”
Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State (26-7) with 14 points and six rebounds, although he was just 6 of 19 from the floor.
“It feels great,” said Thomas, who was a member of OSU’s Big Ten tournament championship team in 2011. “It's a great accomplishment. We went through some battles through the season, some ups and downs, but we never gave up on each other, and I think this is so special for us as a team, as a coaching staff, and for Ohio State.”
Aaron Craft added nine points and six rebounds. Sam Thompson had eight points, while LaQuinton Ross provided a spark with seven points in the decisive second half. Matta singled out Ross for praise.
“I thought Q was tremendous,” Matta said. “He did have a couple of timely field goals for us and a couple big rebounds. You know, that's what we need from LaQuinton at that spot. Everything he did, he really battled defensively. We had a choice to make when they put the big fella back in, and we said, let's go with it, we'll stay with it, see what happens for a couple possessions. He was down there battling and really, really did a nice job.”
Craft was named as the tournament's most outstanding player. He was joined on the all-tournament team by Thomas.
“It’s a great honor,” Craft said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my basketball team. They really believe in me. They give me a lot of freedom.”
The Buckeyes had to battle back from a nine-point first-half deficit to win a topsy turvy game that had seven ties and 10 lead changes. They won their eighth straight game since a 71-49 thrashing at the hands of Wisconsin in Madison on Feb. 17.
“I can't say a few weeks ago we would have responded the same way that we did tonight,” Craft said. “We did a good job of understanding there's a lot of basketball to be played, and we're capable of coming back, and we have before this year. We just tried to stick together, stick to the system, not go solo, and we did a good job of staying to it, and fortunately enough we made some shots, made a run, got it down to one by halftime, and that helps a lot.”
This was a defensive struggle of the highest magnitude. The teams were a combined 4 for 34 (11.7 percent) from three-point range. Ohio State won despite making just 1 of 16 three-pointers (6.3 percent).
“I think down the stretch we talked to each other and said, ‘Hey, shots might not be falling, but our defense is going to win us this game,’ ” Craft said. “Whether it was forcing a questionable shot or grabbing a big rebound, that's how you win big basketball games, and that's what we have to tip our hat on, and we were able to do that tonight.”
Traevon Jackson, a Westerville, Ohio, native and son of former OSU star Jimmy Jackson, led Wisconsin (23-11) with 10 points.
Wisconsin led by as many as nine points in the first half as OSU went just under seven minutes without a field goal at one point. But the Buckeyes rallied to cut the halftime deficit to 24-23 by scoring the last eight points of the half.
Thomas had eight points to lead OSU in the half, although he made only 4 of 11 shots in the first 20 minutes.
Ohio State started strong with Thompson beating everybody back for a jam. He also had a one-handed layup off a pass from Thomas and Craft hit a driving bank shot for a 6-2 lead.
Craft hit a jumper in the lane and Evan Ravenel fed Thomas for a reverse layup and a 13-6 lead with 12:55 left in the half.
But Wisconsin countered with a 14-0 run, holding OSU without a made basket for six minutes, 54 seconds. Brusewitz hit a three to give UW a 15-13 lead. Evans drove for a reverse, backup forward Frank Kaminsky hit a three, Sam Dekker made a spinning shot in the lane and Evans made a hook for a 24-15 with 3:19 left.
Ohio State dug in on defense and held Wisconsin scoreless the rest of the half. Thomas beat Berggren down the lane for a layup. Then, with UW’s Bruesewitz holding on to him, Thomas never left the floor in tapping in a miss. Amir Williams made 1 of 2 free throws. Thomas capped the run, stepping in to hit a 16-footer to cut the UW lead to 24-23. OSU’s Shannon Scott then stole the ball, denying UW a final shot.
“I was kind of excited when we got down by nine today,” Matta said. “I said I liked how they played their way through it and got it down to one at halftime. A month ago, we couldn’t have done that. I liked the way they competed today.”
Business picked up early in the second half as the teams traded punches and counterpunches. There were eight lead changes and four ties in the first 10-1/2 minutes of the half. LaQuinton Ross came off the bench to hit OSU’s first-three pointer of the game, putting OSU up 32-31 with 14:15 left.
A Craft three-point play made it 35-33 with 13:32 left. But Evans made a driving layup to tie it at 35-35 with 12:58 left.
UW’s Dekker hit a jumper in the lane for a 39-37 lead with 7:46 left. Thompson tied it with a sweeping drive across the lane, making it 39-39. But Dekker struck again with a reverse for a 41-39 lead. Thomas was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound. His two free throws tied it at 41-41 with 6:42 left.
Craft then dug the ball out of the Wisconsin post, tracked it down and went coast-to-coast for a right-handed overhead layup and a 43-41 lead.
“We were trying to push the tempo a little bit,” Craft said. “We didn’t think they would get back in transition like a lot of teams that we play. We wanted to get out and get an easy bucket. A lane opened up and I was able to finish it.”
Then after a UW missed free throw, OSU’s Ross grabbed the offensive rebound, backed his way in and scored for a 45-41 lead with 4:27 left.
After a miss by UW’s Jackson, Ross drove and made a nifty spinning layup for a 47-41 lead with 2:38 left.
“It was definitely great that my coaches have trust in me,” Ross said. “I was living in the moment and doing whatever I could for my team. At that moment, we needed a couple of baskets. I said, ‘Why not, for my team.’ ”
UW’s Jackson was fouled by Ross on a drive. His two free throws cut the OSU lead to 47-43.
OSU whittled the clock down, but Craft forced an airball with 1:50 for an apparent shot clock violation. But UW’s Berggren pushed Thompson in the face and elbowed him in the neck in a battle for the rebound. The officials reviewed the play on video and somehow ruled no foul.
It didn’t matter, though, because UW’s Ben Brust missed a three and OSU’s Scott rebounded it. Craft was whistled for double dribble on a drive, but UW’s Bruesewitz misfired on a three and OSU got it back on a held ball with 53.5 seconds left.
Thomas was fouled on the inbounds play. His two free throws made it 49-43 with 44.4 seconds left. UW’s Evans then missed. Thomas grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made 1 of 2 free throws with 31 seconds left to cap it.
Matta bagged his fourth Big Ten tournament title with the win.
“We have been fortunate in this tournament,” he said. “They are all special. This one is amazing. Your three juniors with Deshaun, Aaron and Lenzelle are 8-1 in this tournament. That’s a great feat.”
* Others on the all-tournament team were Jackson and Evans from Wisconsin and Indiana's Cody Zeller.
* With 17 points, Thomas moved up three spots on OSU’s career scoring list to 14th with 1,541 points. He moved past Tony Campbell (1,529), Gary Bradds (1,530) and Jon Diebler (1,536).
* The win makes Ohio State 26-11 all-time in the Big Ten tournament. That record includes all games played. (OSU had games from 1999-2002 vacated due to NCAA sanctions).
OSU is 19-5 in the tournament under Matta. He has the highest winning percentage of any coach in tournament history (.792) and is second on the all-time wins list in the event.
The Buckeyes reached the championship game for the ninth time in 16 years of the tournament, including the last five years in a row. OSU has made the title game for the seventh time in eight years under Matta.
The Buckeyes are 5-4 all-time in the title game. OSU also won the tournament in 2002, 2007, 2010 and 2011 and finished as the runner-up in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012. Wisconsin dropped to 2-3 all-time in the tournament title game.
* Matta’s teams are now 72-17 all-time in the month of March. That includes a 50-12 mark in nine years at OSU.
That record also includes a 30-6 all-time mark in conference tournaments, including seven conference tournament titles in his first 13 years as a head coach.
* Coming into the game, Ohio State was 11th in RPI and Wisconsin was 28th. OSU is now 5-5 against teams currently in the RPI top 25, 8-7 against teams in the top 50 and now 10-7 against teams in the top 100. OSU’s strength of schedule ranking was 11th.
* In this week’s AP poll, Ohio State was 10th and Wisconsin was 22nd.
Matta’s OSU teams are now a combined 43-51 against ranked teams in his nine years with the Buckeyes.
OSU is 5-7 against ranked teams this year with their loss at then-No. 2 Duke on Nov. 29 (73-68), the home loss to then-No. 9 Kansas (74-66) on Dec. 22, the loss at then No. 11-Illinois (74-55) Jan. 5, the home win over then-No. 2 Michigan (56-53) Jan. 13, the road loss at then-No. 18 Michigan State (59-56) on Jan. 19, the road loss at No. 3 Michigan (74-2, overtime) on Feb. 5, the home loss to No. 1 Indiana (81-68) on Feb. 10, the loss at No. 20 Wisconsin (71-49) Feb. 17, the win over No. 4 Michigan State (68-60) on Feb. 24, the win at No. 2 Indiana (67-58) on March 5, the semifinal win over No. 8 Michigan State (61-58) and this win.
In 13 years as a college head coach, Matta’s teams are a combined 52-60 against ranked teams.
* Ohio State has won eight straight since a Feb. 17 loss at Wisconsin.
* Ohio State leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 85-67. The Buckeyes won the teams’ first meeting 58-49 on Jan. 29 in Columbus. Wisconsin won the second in Madison 71-49 on Feb. 17.
Ohio State is now 4-1 all-time against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament. That includes a win over UW in the 2007 title game (66-49), also in Chicago.
Since his arrival at OSU in 2004-05, Thad Matta is 9-11 against Wisconsin. Since his arrival at Wisconsin in 2001-02, Bo Ryan is 15-10 against Ohio State.
* Click here for the box score from OSU-Wisconsin.
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