July 30, 2014

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College basketball: Ohio State spoils Indiana’s celebration, stays in hunt for Big Ten share

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — No. 14 Ohio State crashed No. 2 Indiana’s big party plans Tuesday night.

Instead, it wound up celebrating its own resurgence.

The Buckeyes made things tough on Cody Zeller inside, took Indiana’s shooters out of their comfort zone and relied on Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft to deliver the late knockout punch in a 67-58 victory.

It doesn’t any get sweeter than that — even if the Buckeyes don’t want to make a big deal out of it.

More photos below.

“Whatever else goes on outside the floor, it’s a basketball game,” Craft said. “Where we were a couple weeks ago and where we are now, that just makes us appreciate this a little more.”

This wasn’t just a victory for Ohio State (22-7, 12-5 Big Ten). It kept at least half of the league’s teams in a title chase that will now go down to the final day of the regular season.

Sunday’s losses by Wisconsin and Michigan State gave Indiana (25-5, 13-4) a share of its first conference championship in 11 years.

A win over the Buckeyes would have given the Hoosiers their first outright Big Ten crown since 1993. They will get another chance Sunday at No. 7 Michigan.

But Thomas and Craft weren’t going to let the celebration take place at their expense.

Thomas finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Craft added 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. And they combined for the first nine points in a decisive 11-2 run that forced Indiana to spend the rest of the game playing catch-up.

The win puts Ohio State in the unenviable position of rooting for Michigan, that dreaded team from up north, to help create a logjam atop America’s toughest conference this season.

“We have to root for them (the Wolverines). They rooted for us last year and I’m sure they rooted for us this year,” Thomas said. “Now we’re going to have to root for them, and hopefully they can knock them (Hoosiers) off at their place.”

Getting back to this position wasn’t easy. Ohio State heads into Sunday’s regular-season finale against Illinois with four straight wins and needing a fifth consecutive victory — and the Wolverines’ win — just to get a share of the league title.

The Buckeyes had to be every bit as physical as the Hoosiers inside and on defense.

Craft exemplified their tough style when he crashed hard to the court after attempting a layup on a fast break. He still played well enough down the stretch to prevent the Hoosiers from coming back.

“We were just more active tonight. There was no secret what they wanted to do,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “They wanted to go inside with Zeller and (Christian) Watford. But it was just more activity and we felt like we knew where they were going to be diving from. Kind of a do both type game. You had to do it and then take away the threes.”

Zeller led the Hoosiers with 17 points and Watford finished with 12, but the Hoosiers didn’t immediately take questions because of the Senior Night speeches.

Clearly, this was not just another game for the Hoosiers.

During pregame ceremonies, Zeller and Victor Oladipo were recognized for joining the school’s 1,000-point club and were joined at midcourt by coach Tom Crean and the Hoosiers’ other two 1,00-point scorers, seniors Jordan Hulls and Watford.

Familiar names such as Kent Benson, the star of the undefeated 1976 national championship team, and Isiah Thomas, star of the 1981 national championship team, showed up to watch. Rock singer John Mellencamp took his traditional seat, too.

Students showed up with dozens of colorful signs that included phrases such as “Windiana” and waited outside for hours through the rain, sleet, snow and dropping temperatures to get as close as they could to the court all in anticipation of clinching that long awaited title.

None of that mattered to the Buckeyes, who scored the final seven points of the first half to take a 28-25 lead.

Indiana scored the first five points and made its first five shots of the second half to take a 39-34 lead.

Ohio State answered with a 14-4 run, and when Indiana closed to 50-48 with 7:07 to go, Craft and Thomas scored nine of the next 11 Ohio State points to pull away.

“We just kept telling our guys ‘Poise. Poise. Just keep your poise,’ and we made some big buckets,” Matta said. “We pressed a little bit there, but it’s like we told them ‘They’re scoring but we’re missing layups.’ I thought our guys played through it pretty well.”

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