Senior night was supposed to serve as a fitting ending for the players that have seen Indiana at its worst, and now its best, as the Hoosiers stood on their home floor for the final time this season only one more win away from capturing the program’s first outright conference title since 1993.
But No. 2 Indiana, the team that has consistently separated itself from the rest of the deep Big Ten all season, will have to wait at least one more game before it can earn sole claim of another conference championship, something the banners in the broad Assembly Hall rafters remind were once the norm.
That’s because Ohio State, the three-time defending Big Ten champions, proved in a 67-58 win over Indiana on Tuesday night that it isn’t quite ready to loosen what has become a steadfast grip on conference domination in the recent years.
“We aren’t done yet even if it seemed like we were in a tough position. We didn’t give up and we knew we still had ballgames,” junior forward Deshaun Thomas said. “We kept our composure, we kept fighting and this is one of the greatest team performances I have seen in my time at Ohio State.”
Deshaun Thomas scored 17 points and Aaron Craft had 15 for the No. 14-ranked Buckeyes (22-7, 12-5 Big Ten), a team that remains alive in the race to potentially earn a share of its fourth consecutive Big Ten championship.
Cody Zeller had 17 points and Christian Watford added 12 for the Hoosiers (25-5, 13-4), who can still win the conference outright with a win at No. 7 Michigan on Sunday.
In order for the Buckeyes to earn a share, they must beat Illinois in Value City Arena on Sunday and hope Indiana loses its season-finale to the Wolverines, a team that also remains in the hunt to finish with a share of the Big Ten title.
“I have (never rooted for Michigan), but I do know we have to take care of business against Illinois before anything can happen,” Craft said. “We are going to enjoy this win, but we have a big game against an opponent that handled us the first time we played this. We are going to enjoy this, but not be satisfied.”
Ohio State’s 61-50 lead with 3:15 remaining in the game served as Indiana’s largest deficit all season, and the Buckeyes got there by using an 11-2 run, one during which they turned the Hoosiers over and got offensive contributions from an secondary scoring options.
Sophomore point guard Shannon Scott, who had four of Ohio State’s eight steals, grabbed the ball from Victor Oladipo and found a sprinting Lenzelle Smith Jr. for the one-handed slam, a score that capped the run and served as an exclamation point as the Buckeyes increased their lead to 11.
During the run, Craft finished back-to-back buckets off the glass late in the shot clock as Indiana found itself in a rare position – on its heels on its home floor.
“I am a little older and I have watched some guys who have carried themselves tremendously at the end of shot clocks,” Craft said. “They always stay poised, they stayed in their offense and stayed within the system. I was able to get open and knock down some shots.”
The Buckeyes lead 28-25 at halftime, but Indiana came out of the locker room quickly poised to regain control. Oladipo, who surprisingly didn’t attempt a shot in the first half, knocked down a three on the Hoosiers’ first possession to tie the game.
Oladipo’s basket started an offensive tear for Indiana, who scored on its first seven possessions of the second half, putting together a 14-6 run that was eventually capped by two free throws by Cody Zeller to make the score 39-34 with 14:47 remaining in the game.
But the Buckeyes, who had earned the tough lead at halftime by playing efficient defense, responded on the offensive end of the floor.
Playing at Indiana’s fast pace – something that would have figured to give the Buckeyes’ a clear disadvantage – Ohio State scored 14 of the next 18 points, bolstered by three buckets by senior Evan Ravenel, a score and two free throws from Scott and field goals from Craft and Smith.
“We showed what kind of team we are when we are all playing together, playing connected,” sophomore Sam Thompson said. “We knew what we were capable of doing all season, and we saw how good of a basketball team we can be when everyone is playing good basketball and contributing.”
Indiana didn’t go down without a fight. A three-point play by Yogi Ferrell brought the Hoosiers within 50-48 with 7:07 remaining, but the Buckeyes scored on their next four possessions on their way to achieving the late, and insurmountable, 11-point lead.
Ohio State has now won four consecutive games after being blown out at Wisconsin 71-49 on Feb. 17, including two wins against foes in the top 5.
“I am proud of this basketball team," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "We were knocked down and kicked do the ground and they picked themselves up and are responding at a pretty high level right now."
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