INDIANAPOLIS – In it to win it.
That’s what Ohio State’s players said about their participation in the Big Ten tournament. After clinching a share of the conference’s regular-season title while riding a short rotation, the Buckeyes headed to Indianapolis assured of a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But the Buckeyes wanted more than to get some rest before heading into March Madness. To a man, each player spoke of how he wanted to bring a piece of hardware back home to Columbus.
On Sunday, the top-seeded Buckeyes did just that, defeating No. 6 seed Minnesota in the title game, winning by a 90-61 score and cutting down the nets at Conseco Fieldhouse.
For the Buckeyes, it marked their sixth appearance in the Big Ten title game and fourth in five years, having won two of their previous five attempts. Minnesota was playing on the final day of the tournament for the first time in school history.
After holding a three-point halftime lead, OSU seized control as soon as the second half started. Junior guard Evan Turner put in a wide-open layup off a backdoor cut to make it 35-30 in favor of the Buckeyes and started what would be an 8-0 run to open the half.
Minnesota (21-13) would cut it down to two at 42-40 with about 14 minutes to go, but the Buckeyes (27-7) seized control with a 23-5 run keyed by three slashing layups from junior forward David Lighty on as many possessions.
The Gophers never had the ball with a chance to tie the game or take the lead in the final half. As the game went on, the only question was how high the OSU lead would stretch.
Turner brought home the tournament's most valuable player award. He was joined on the all-tournament team by junior guard Jon Diebler and Lighty as well as Illinois' Demetri McCamey and Minnesota's Devoe Joseph.
The game was finalized with less than an hour until the NCAA Tournament projections were released.
The Buckeyes opened up a seven-point lead in the final moments of the first half, but it was cut to three as the teams headed into the break. Diebler stole the ball and threw down a two-handed dunk at the other end to make it 28-21 with 2:03 left, and the crowd of 14,598 was roaring like it was an OSU home game.
Minnesota answered with a jumper from Paul Carter to quiet the crowd, and a Turner turnover at the other end was answered by a basket from Ralph Sampson III after a 4-on-1 break that made it 28-25.
Diebler buried a trey to push it back to a six-point lead, and the teams traded baskets to make it 33-27 with 13 seconds left. The Gophers pushed the ball up the court and found Joseph at the top of the circle with about two seconds left in the half.
He gave a head fake and, after Turner flew by, buried the three-pointer at the buzzer to set the score at 33-30.
It was not a pretty half by any stretch of the term. The teams combined for 17 turnovers – Minnesota had nine – and 13 fouls.
Playing their fourth game in as many days, one of which went into overtime, the Gophers substituted liberally and had nine players see first-half action. The Buckeyes, playing their third game in as many days – one of which went to double overtime – used only six players in the first half as four starters went the distance heading into the break.
One day after scoring 31 points in a double-overtime victory against Illinois, Turner again put up 31 and 11 rebounds to lead his team. Lighty had 20, while Diebler had 19 and sophomore guard William Buford added 13. Matta pulled his starters with 1:25 remaining and OSU up 85-59.
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