Buckeyes finish the job
CHICAGO (AP) – Deshaun Thomas kept shooting, determined to score enough to push weary Ohio State to the victory. Aaron Craft did a little bit of everything in the Big Ten tournament final.
This was one determined bunch of Buckeyes.
Thomas scored 17 points and No. 10 Ohio State used its stout defense to beat No. 22 Wisconsin 50-43 on Sunday for its conference-best fifth tournament title.
“We were challenging our guys every timeout, telling them, ‘You’ve got one more gear. You’ve got one more gear,'” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Fortunately for us, we made some big plays and then finally knocked a couple shots down.”
Thomas was 6 for 19 from the field, but made some big free throws down the stretch as Ohio State won the championship for the third time in the last four years. Craft, who was voted the most outstanding player of the tournament, had nine points and six rebounds, and LaQuinton Ross delivered a couple of huge plays.
“Well, we draw the line,” Thomas said. “Coach told us in the huddle, the fatigue got to us, but got to let it all on the table and let it out, and that’s what we did. We got our stops and we got guys who came in and hit big shots, and that’s what this basketball team is all about.”
The Buckeyes (26-7) were rewarded with a No. 2 seed in the West Region for the NCAA tournament and a second-round game in Dayton, Ohio, against Iona. Wisconsin is in the same region, with the fifth-seeded Badgers to play Ole Miss in their first game in Kansas City, Mo.
“Playing in Dayton, you can’t get anything better,” Craft said. “Buckeye Nation travels very well, especially when it’s an hour down the road.”
Traevon Jackson scored 10 points for the Badgers (23-11), who shot 38.3 percent from the field. None of his teammates reached double figures, with Sam Dekker next up at eight points.
“It’s a disappointment,” senior Ryan Evans said. “We definitely wanted to leave here with some hardware, but moving forward, we’ve got the NCAA tournament. It’s a bigger thing, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Wisconsin and Ohio State were close for most of the second half, but the Buckeyes seized on a cold spell by the Badgers to move in front down the stretch.
After Dekker scored on a reverse layup with 7:01 remaining, Wisconsin went scoreless for the next 4 minutes while Ross stepped up for Ohio State. He had a strong offensive rebound and putback, then converted a layup to make it 47-41 with 2:39 to go.
“I thought Q was tremendous,” Matta said. “He did have a couple of timely field goals for us, a couple big rebounds. That’s what we need from LaQuinton at that spot.”
Jackson made two free throws to stop the scoring drought for the Badgers, who forced a shot clock violation on the other end. But Ben Brust missed a long 3-pointer and Thomas went 3 for 4 at the line in the final minute.
Dekker’s basket was Wisconsin’s last field goal of the game.
“Looking back, when shots don’t fall, you just try to go inside or get to the free-throw line, drive a little bit and maybe get something going,” Evans said. “Looking back, we probably didn’t do that enough. But shots fell in the other games, so just one of those things.”
Wisconsin advanced to the final with a pair of impressive victories over No. 6 Michigan and third-ranked Indiana, while Ohio State beat Nebraska handily and edged No. 8 Michigan State to reach the title game for the fifth consecutive season.
The Badgers outrebounded the Hoosiers by five in their semifinal, but the Buckeyes enjoyed a 39-28 advantage on the glass and a 13-4 difference in second-chance points. Lenzelle Smith Jr. had eight rebounds and Thomas finished with seven.
“We got beat physically inside a little bit, so I think that told a lot on the offensive glass,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said.
Sam Thompson added eight points for the Buckeyes, who have won eight straight and nine of 10.
While the lithe Thompson is a potent scorer, the Badgers took advantage of his lack of size at times when they had the ball. The 6-foot-7, 190-pound Thompson started at forward for the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin’s senior starting front court of Jared Berggren, Evans and Mike Bruesewitz all had at least 18 pounds on the sophomore.
The Badgers used the advantage to get high-percentage shots inside or force a double team that left one of their 3-point shooters open. It was particularly noticeable during a 14-0 first-half run that included 3s from Bruesewitz and Frank Kaminsky and a slick reverse layup by Evans.
But Matta also did a nice bit of coaching for the Buckeyes. After Thomas got off to a slow start, Matta pulled the junior aside for a quick chat during a timeout late in the first half and the forward responded with a nice jumper that trimmed Wisconsin’s lead to 24-23 at halftime.