CHICAGO – 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 3 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 4 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, 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.”
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 4½ 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.
“I think down the stretch we talked to each other and said, ‘Hey, shots might not be falling, but our defense is going to win us this game,’” Craft said, “and whether it was forcing a questionable shot or grabbing a big rebound, that’s how you win big basketball games, and that’s what we have to tip our hat on, and we were able to do that tonight.”