COLUMBUS, Ohio – First, No. 14 Ohio State won a game. Then, the Buckeyes watched a share of the Big Ten championship slip away.
Hours after Ohio State beat Illinois 68-55 on Sunday behind Deshaun Thomas’ 19 points, the Buckeyes missed out on a piece of the conference title when No. 2 Indiana overcame a four-point deficit in the final minute to eke past No. 7 Michigan 72-71.
The victory gave the Hoosiers their first outright Big Ten crown in two decades. Ohio State (23-7, 13-5) had to be content with a strong stretch run and a close second-place finish. Its string of conference titles ended at three in a row.
I like where we are now, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said after his team’s win. With everything that’s transpired in college basketball, we won five straight games (to close the regular season). You hope this team finishes in the final poll in the top 10. We’ve done that a lot of times now, which is hard to do in college basketball.
Beyond that, the Buckeyes will get ready for the conference tournament this week in Chicago where they’ll be the No. 2 seed and play Friday night in the quarterfinals against the winner of seventh-seeded Purdue and No. 10 Nebraska.
Point guard Aaron Craft said the Buckeyes took care of their business and were resigned that their fate was in another team’s hands.
There’s no point worrying about something that we have no control over, said Craft, who had 14 points and six assists and, as usual, created havoc on defense for the Buckeyes in their win over Illinois. We did what we needed to do.
Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 19.8 points a game, had another strong game while possibly playing his final home game for Ohio State.
We’ll think about that decision at the end of the (NCAA) tournament, said Thomas, a junior who almost left for the NBA draft a year ago. Right now, there’s a lot more basketball left. I’m just going to enjoy my time and try to get to the Final Four. That’s all I’m worried about now.
The Buckeyes beat the Illini (21-11, 8-10) by overcoming a stalemate after the first 13 minutes, closing the half on a 12-2 run and then holding off any threats at the end.
The end of the first half, they made a run on us and got a nice little lead going into halftime, said Brandon Paul, who led the Illini with 21 points. That definitely boosted their confidence. Then we didn’t find ways to stop them down the stretch.