No. 1 Ohio State put the cherry on top of an outright Big Ten title with a decisive home win against No. 10 Wisconsin, sprinting away to a 93-65 victory in front of an emotionally charged crowd in Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes had already clinched an outright Big Ten title by virtue of Purdue's loss at Iowa one day prior, but this win allowed them to close the regular season unbeaten at home.
When the team's three seniors and freshman Jared Sullinger entered the postgame interview room, they brought along the Big Ten trophy and placed it squarely in the middle of the table. Senior David Lighty had a net draped around his neck while classmate Dallas Lauderdale made sure that the trophy was perfectly in place before grabbing a seat.
"It was crazy from start to finish, from the fireworks going off until the streamers at the end of the game," Lighty said. "It was a great way to go out."
There was no shortage of storylines in this one. One of the two losses suffered by the Buckeyes (29-2, 16-2 Big Ten) this season came on Wisconsin's home court 22 days ago. In the aftermath of the game, Sullinger claimed to have been spit upon by Wisconsin fans as they charged the court in celebration.
In response, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan told fans, in part, "deal with it."
Those words became a rallying cry among the OSU faithful as the game neared. Students camped out overnight in below-freezing temperatures for the right to be the first to enter the arena, and the first section to be filled to capacity was directly behind the Wisconsin bench.
Sensing this, the university's video department came up with a special pregame video. Starting with a clip of former Buckeye Ron Lewis blocking Wisconsin's last-second attempt to earn a win in the final game of the 2006-07 season that clinched a Big Ten title for the Buckeyes, it also featured footage of a badger scurrying away in terror as well as a shot of Ryan looking terrified.
It ended with the phrase of the day: "Deal With It."
As if that were not enough, 1,400 towels with the phrase were distributed to the students as they entered the arena. Every time the Badgers looked behind their bench, dozens of them were on display.
Ryan said he did not see the towels and claimed he did not realize they were directed at his team.
"What towels?" he said. "That wasn't for them? They were red and white, weren't they? Everybody has towels now. I know one thing: those towels didn't blow the ball in on those threes.
"Guys, it's a basketball game. People cheer."
"Jon almost cried," Lauderdale said. "If I didn't look at him and make him laugh he was going to cry. Jon was the closest to all of us."
Perhaps it was no wonder that, after the Buckeyes defeated Penn State on the road Tuesday night, OSU head coach Thad Matta told his players to expect the greatest game environment of their careers.
On this occasion, the Buckeye faithful did not disappoint. An announced sellout crowd of 18,809 would better be described as a capacity crowd as every available space was packed all the way to the rafters.
They had plenty to cheer for early and often. After a senior-to-senior connection from Diebler to Lauderdale resulted in a dunk to open the scoring, the Buckeyes eked out a 15-13 lead thanks to eight early points from Sullinger. After a rough stretch that saw the teams combine for five misses and three turnovers before Diebler broke the skid in a big way.
With 10:20 left on the clock, the senior buried a three-pointer from the left wing and hit the deck after drawing contact from Wisconsin's Josh Gasser. The foul was whistled as the ball swished through the net, and he hit the ensuing free throw to complete the four-point play and give his team a 19-13 lead. The Badgers countered with a jumper from Gasser, but Diebler canned another three-pointer on his team's next possession to start what would be another spectacular night for the sharpshooter.
After canning a Big Ten-record 10 three-pointers against the Nittany Lions, Diebler went 7 for 8 on senior night to finish with a game-high 27 points. Against the Nittany Lions, he went 10 for 12 from deep for a career-high 30 points.
For the team, it was a record-breaking performance. The Buckeyes hit 14 of 15 three-pointers, good for 93.3 percent – an NCAA record. They all came after Diebler missed the first trey of the game, giving them 14 straight – also an NCAA record.
"It is an amazing run there for (Diebler)," Matta said. "As I told the team after the game we were 14 for 15 from three and Jon apologized for missing. All the shots that he shoots and all the practices that he has, it's very gratifying to see him shoot like that."
Following Diebler's second consecutive trey, the Buckeyes incrementally pulled away. A 7-2 run made it 26-17 with 7:15 left, and a 12-3 run following a three-pointer from Brett Valentyn made it 38-23 in favor of the home team with 3:24 left in the half.
When Diebler canned his fourth three-pointer of the first half with less than two seconds remaining, it set the halftime score at 47-32 in favor of the home team. Ironically, the Buckeyes held the exact same lead in Madison only to see the Badgers close the game on a 39-20 run to earn the victory.
That point was made to the Buckeyes at halftime.
"That's when we let our guard down and let them feel good," Lighty said. "That's something we focused on in practice … coming out and playing a full 40 minutes and finishing the regular season right."
In that game, Jordan Taylor went off, scoring 21 of his game-high 27 points in the second half to help his team pull off the upset. This time, he was not so lucky. With freshman guard Aaron Craft draped over him for much of the game, Taylor went 2 of 9 from the field for eight points.
Gasser led his team with 18 points. Sullinger had 22 while Junior guard William Buford and Lighty finished with 13.