Ohio State wins Big Ten, earns No. 2 seed in NCAA
Deshaun Thomas and Ohio State were tired, worn down by a grueling Big Ten tournament. Traevon Jackson and Wisconsin had little left as well in the third game in three days for each team.
Locked in a battle of wills, the Buckeyes found a way.
Thomas scored 17 points and No. 10 Ohio State used its stout defense to beat No. 22 Wisconsin 50-43 on Sunday for its Big Ten-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. Aaron 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.
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 against Iona.
“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.”
If the Buckeyes can get past the Gaels, they would meet the winner of seventh-seeded Notre Dame and No. 10 seed Iowa State.
But Matta has twice taken Ohio State teams to Dayton before for NCAA tournaments and each made the short trip home with a disappointing loss.
“Well, we’re 1-2 [in Dayton]. Hopefully it’s time to change that, that’s for doggone sure,” Matta said as his team boarded the plane for the flight home from the Big Ten title game. “Sometimes it’s just the way the ball bounces. We’ll hopefully put that behind us and see what we can do this year.”
His 2006 team (26-6) won the Big Ten title in the regular season and, also as a No. 2 seed, was sent to Dayton. In its first game, Ohio State beat Davidson 70-62 but then was manhandled by seventh-seeded Georgetown (23-9) and center Roy Hibbert, 70-52.
Then in 2009, the Buckeyes ended up in Dayton again, this time as an eighth seed against No. 9 Siena. Ronald Moore hit a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left in the second overtime to beat the Buckeyes 74-72 before a partisan crowd.
Other teams in the West include top-seeded Gonzaga, along with No. 3 New Mexico, fourth-seeded Kansas State, Wisconsin at No. 5 and sixth-seeded Arizona.
Survive to the regional and the games will be played at Staples Center in Los Angeles, home to the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Fifteenth-seeded Iona is making its 10th NCAA appearance and first back-to-back trips to the tournament since 2000 and 2001. A year ago the Gaels lost to BYU, 78-72.
They earned their spot in the field this time around by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament 60-57 over Manhattan on March 11.
The Buckeyes enter the big tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning their final five regular-season games and then storming through three opponents in the conference tournament at United Center in Chicago.
“That’s a tribute to the kids,” Matta said of the strong finish. “They’re great kids who have stuck together through the good and the bad. And they’ve kept working. Quite honestly, they’ve gotten closer as the season has gone on, which is huge.”