BLOOMINGTON — On Senior Night at Assembly Hall, it was a junior who nearly led Indiana to its biggest victory of the Big Ten season.
Juwan Morgan scored nine of his team-high 18 points in the game's two overtime sessions, including six in double overtime, to propel the Hoosiers to a one-point lead with seconds left. He would have been the hero, but No. 16 Ohio State's C.J. Jackson ruined the party, pulling up from 25 feet and nailing a 3-pointer with a second left to give his team an 80-78 victory Friday in the Hoosiers' final regular season game.
The second overtime was a tightly-contested battle, with the teams trading baskets until the final seconds. Neither team had more than a one-point lead in the final five minutes until Jackson hit his game-winner. The game almost didn't reach a second overtime, but senior Robert Johnson, who scored 17 points, hit a pair of free throws in the last seconds of the first extra session to deadlock the score at 70.
"Tonight was very painful," coach Archie Miller said, addressing the crowd after the game. "We weren't able to get the job done for you guys and we wanted so deeply to do it. Also for our guys here in front of us (the seniors) who wanted a win, but it didn't happen. But it's moments like this you look back on with time and you'll say to yourself, 'Do you remember where we started?'
"These (seniors) have given everything in their power to help us build and build and build and one day they'll come back here and this place will be as dominant as any in college basketball."
Indiana (16-14, 9-9 Big Ten) once again allowed an opportunity to register a signature victory slip away in the final seconds. The Hoosiers finish the regular season 1-7 against ranked teams, with their final three home losses against such teams coming by a total of 12 points. They did not beat a ranked opponent in conference play.
The Buckeyes (24-7, 15-3) were led by junior Keita Bates-Diop. The forward, who came in as the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, poured in 24 points and grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds. He totaled 27 boards in two contests against the Hoosiers this season. Indiana did a good job on him defensively, forcing him to take 24 shots to get his points, but the attention the Hoosiers paid him opened up driving lanes for other Buckeyes.
"(Bates-Diop) has got unbelievable length, he shoots it over the top of you," Miller said. "I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of just trying to keep him in front and challenge everything that we possibly could. He's a very difficult cover. I'd be surprised if he's not the Big Ten Player of the Year."
Following the game, the Hoosiers' five seniors were recognized for their contributions to the team. Johnson got an especially loud ovation, as it was announced that he would finish in the top 25 on the all-time IU scoring list. He's only 26 points away from the top 20 after Friday's performance, which tied him with Jimmy Rayl for the 22nd spot.
"It's always been a dream of mine to play at a program like this," said Johnson, who then paused, choking up.
He eventually steadied himself and thanked everyone from the fans to coaches Tom Crean and Archie Miller and his parents before handing the microphone back to end the festivities.
Johnson's fellow senior Collin Hartman summed up the evening succinctly.
""Thank you Hoosier nation, Hoosier forever," the fifth-year senior said, concluding his address to the fans.
Indiana fell behind 26-14 midway through the first half before rallying to pull even at 33 by halftime. The flurry before the break included five points from freshman Aljami Durham. Durham's fellow freshman Justin Smith scored 16 points, mostly on thunderous dunks, the fourth game in a row he's scored in double figures. On a night for seniors, the freshman had the most energy on the team for a large portion of the game.
"We used to call him 'practice dunker' because he'd always dunk it hard in practice," Morgan said of Smith. "He never was trying to dunk on anybody in the games. Now he's attacking the rim with that kind of aggressiveness."
Indiana now must wait until Sunday, after the matchup between Penn State and Nebraska, to find out its seed in the Big Ten tournament. A win for the Nittany Lions will drop Indiana to No. 7, while a loss leaves the Hoosiers at No. 6. Indiana will play Thursday night in the tournament's second round.