Playing without its top scorer in injured star Bracey Wright, Indiana’s youthful team reverted to its program roots – deliberate, patterned basketball.
And the ploy nearly worked as the Hoosiers, who started four freshmen, briefly took a lead midway through the second half.
But Ohio State again proved to be as tough as nails at home, rallying behind a late 20-4 run to take a 57-44 Big Ten men’s basketball win before 14,110 Tuesday night at Value City Arena.
“If you count the possessions, I don’t think I have ever coached in a game where the shot clock was more involved,” said OSU coach Thad Matta, whose team improved to 18-8 overall and moved into sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten at 7-5. “When we played at Indiana (a 67-60 loss), we guarded well over there. But they made plays.
“Tonight, we were able to knock down a couple of big shots – just as they did over there.”
J.J. Sullinger made a pair of clutch baskets in the final four minutes and led the Buckeyes with 17 points and six rebounds.
“We just had to make plays down the stretch,” said Sullinger, who was 7 of 10 from the field and scored 14 of his points in the second half. “We said that’s what we had to do. In the last game at their place, it came down to them making plays and we didn’t.”
Terence Dials had 14 points and seven rebounds, while freshman guard Jamar Butler had a career-high 13 points and four rebounds. Butler also logged a career-high 27 minutes.
“That meant a lot to me that Coach had confidence in me to run the team,” Butler said. “I was able to take care of the ball and pull the team through and get a win.”
OSU won its sixth game in seven tries despite making just 38 percent of its shots (19 of 50). The Buckeyes committed just eight turnovers and eight fouls. Neither team scored a fast break point.
Matt Sylvester came off the OSU bench to score six points, grab seven rebounds and make three key assists during the team’s game deciding run. He played despite suffering effects from the flu.
“We were nervous,” Matta said of Sylvester’s valiant effort. “He was in to see the trainer at 7 o’clock this morning. There was a time in the first half where I was concerned he wasn’t going to be able to go. We talked to him at halftime and he felt like he could go.”
Je’Kel Foster did not score in 37 minutes of action, but he had four rebounds and four assists.
“I thought Je’Kel was our MVP tonight,” Matta said. “He defended well and was active on the boards. With five minutes to go, he gets that look in his eyes and he really makes you feel good that he is on your team.”
Freshman center D.J. White led Indiana (11-11, 6-5) with 17 points and five rebounds, while freshman guard Robert Vaden had 14 points and six rebounds. The Hoosiers managed just three free throw attempts, making two.
“Our intensity was great in the first half,” said IU coach Mike Davis. “But in the last eight minutes of the game we had no energy left. Sullinger was a handful for us tonight. He played great. We’ve just got to get better.”
Dials told reporters he and the team were motivated by a televised report that Indiana, which was squarely on the NCAA bubble, only had two tough games remaining – Wisconsin and Michigan State.
“They said they had two tough games left,” Dials said. “That was bulletin board material for us. We had nothing to lose and just went out and played hard. That got a lot of guys riled up, for anybody to overlook us.”
OSU is ineligible for postseason play beyond the Big Ten Tournament. But Matta said he takes no great satisfaction in popping the bubble of other Big Ten teams.
“No, I’m honestly more concerned with us,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that people talk now about the tournament and all that stuff. Enjoy the game and enjoy the season. Those were two teams out there that I felt competed for 40 minutes.
“Obviously, we were happy that we won, but I feel bad for Indiana. They came in here and competed as well. Things in this profession are too hard. You don’t want to ruin anything for anybody else. I have too much respect for every coach in this league. I want to win. That’s all I want to do. Whatever happens happens.
“We would like to be able to hear at the end that `They would have been in the NCAA Tournament.’ I don’t take great pride in making somebody else’s life difficult.”
Ohio State led 27-22 at halftime after the teams combined to miss 31 of their 51 first-half shots. The score was stuck at 5-5 for over four minutes before Marshall Strickland scored on a back door pass from Vaden.
OSU began to warm up as Sylvester hit a three-pointer from the top off a pass from Tony Stockman and Matt Marinchick made a baseline jumper to give OSU a 10-7 lead with 9:58 left in the half.
Stockman then hit a trey off a pass from Foster on the secondary break to put the Buckeyes up 13-9 with 8:55 left in the half. IU then went on a 9-3 run, keyed by five points from Vaden and four from White, to go up 18-16 with 5:20 left in the half.
But OSU outscored IU 11-4 the rest of the half. That run included three-pointers from Sullinger and Butler, a hook shot from Ivan Harris and Butler’s three-point play with 1:05 left.
The Buckeyes still led 31-27 with 15:48 left in the game after Sullinger drilled a baseline jumper. But Indiana answered with a strong 9-2 run to take the lead. White got it started, taking a pass from Strickland, jamming it home and drawing a foul on Dials. The free throw cut the lead to 31-30. Dials left the game moments later after drawing his third foul with 14:13 left.
Roderick Wilmont then gave IU its first lead since midway through the first half with a rebound basket, putting the Hoosiers up 32-31 with 13:53 left. Sylvester then made a pair of free throws, but White continued his torrid pace by scoring twice inside against Marinchick to put IU up 36-33 with 10:50 left.
But Ohio State answered with a 20-4 run of its own to take charge of the game. Sullinger hit an 8-foot jumper. Dials then made a free throw to tie the game before his layup off a feed from Sylvester gave OSU a 38-36 lead with 8:32 left. Sylvester then made 1 of 2 free throws with 8:17 left. Strickland hit a jumper in the lane for IU. But Dials then made a pair of free throws and, after Foster stole an IU inbounds pass, Sylvester dished to Sullinger for a trey that put the Buckeyes up 44-38 with 5:51 left.
Sylvester then threw a perfect lob to Dials, who banked it in over IU’s Ryan Tapak for a 46-38 lead with 4:18 left.
After an IU miss, OSU had the ball and wound down the shot clock. Sullinger was left to fling a 24-foot shot that missed the basket. Dials tracked the rebound down in the corner and bounced it off an IU defender to retain possession with three seconds on the shot clock.
Sullinger then fielded an inbounds lob pass from Butler and nailed a 9-foot fadeaway jumper over Vaden to beat the shot clock and push the lead to 48-38 with 3:22 left.
“Time was going down and we had to make a play,” Sullinger said. “I got the ball, got out of the guy’s way and shot the ball high and it went in.”
White answered with a jumper in the lane with 2:58 left. But Sullinger drove to the basket and beat the shot clock with a running 4-footer. He was fouled by Wilmont on the play and the free throw gave OSU a 51-40 lead with 1:49 left.
“We were trying to get the ball to Jamar,” Sullinger said. “They were denying him the ball. I had the ball in my hands and just saw the lane and took it. Luckily, I got to the basket and right at the very end, the guy fouled me.”
After an IU miss, Butler capped the run by rebounding his own miss and laying it in for a 53-40 lead with 1:05 left.
“The shot clock was running down,” Butler said. “I knew I had to penetrate and get to the hole. I was trying to draw a foul because we were in the bonus. I threw the shot up and missed, but it came back to me and I finished it.”
Indiana cut the lead to 53-44 when Vaden completed a rare four-point play with 56.7 seconds left. But Butler and Dials each made a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to ice it.
Tony Stockman had three points for OSU in a season-low 14 minutes. He was 1 of 5 from the floor.
* Wright, the second leading scorer in the Big Ten, missed his third straight game for IU.
* Indiana still holds a commanding 98-70 lead in the all-time series with OSU. The Buckeyes improved to 4-2 against IU inside VCA. OSU is 48-34 all-time against IU in Columbus.
* Matta improved to 1-2 all-time against Indiana.
* OSU improved to 90-21 all-time in VCA and 14-1 at home this year (one game was at St. John Arena).
* IU’s 44 points marked the fifth time in 26 games this year OSU has held a team to 50 points or below. It was IU’s lowest scoring game since it had 41 in a loss to Kentucky last year.
* Matta, in his fifth season as a college head coach, saw his record improve to 67-7 in home games. He is also now 29-5 all-time in the month of February.
* The Buckeyes visit Minnesota at 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN-Plus). The Golden Gophers, who defeated OSU 60-56 in overtime on Jan. 19 in Columbus, play at Michigan State Wednesday. Minnesota is 16-8 overall and 6-5 in Big Ten play going into that game.
“This is good for us,” said Matta, who will give the team Wednesday off. “We are banged up. We have had to go quite a length of time without a day off. It will be good for us to get some rest and get our guys back. We play Saturday, then we have eight days to get ready to play Wisconsin.”