BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — No. 14 Ohio State crashed No. 2 Indiana’s big party plans Tuesday night.
Instead, it wound up celebrating its own resurgence.
The Buckeyes made things tough on Cody Zeller inside, took Indiana’s shooters out of their comfort zone and relied on Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft to deliver the late knockout punch in a 67-58 victory. It doesn’t any get sweeter than that — even if the Buckeyes don’t want to make a big deal out of it.
“Whatever else goes on outside the floor, it’s a basketball game,” Craft said. “Where we were a couple weeks ago and where we are now, that just makes us appreciate this a little more.”
This wasn’t just a victory for Ohio State (22-7, 12-5 Big Ten). It kept at least half of the league’s teams in a title chase that will now go down to the final day of the regular season.
Sunday’s losses by Wisconsin and Michigan State gave Indiana (25-5, 13-4) a share of its first conference championship in 11 years. A win over the Buckeyes would have given the Hoosiers their first outright Big Ten crown since 1993. They will get another chance Sunday at No. 7 Michigan.
But Thomas and Craft weren’t going to let the celebration take place at their expense.
Thomas finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Craft added 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. And they combined for the first nine points in the decisive 11-2 run that forced Indiana to spend the rest of the game playing catch-up.
The win puts Ohio State in the unenviable position of rooting for Michigan, that dreaded team from up north, to help create a logjam atop America’s toughest conference this season.
“We have to root for them (the Wolverines). They rooted for us last year and I’m sure they rooted for us this year,” Thomas said. “Now we’re going to have to root for them, and hopefully they can knock them (Hoosiers) off at their place.”
Getting back to this position wasn’t easy. Ohio State heads into Sunday’s regular season finale against Illinois with four straight wins and needing a fifth consecutive victory — and the Wolverines’ win — just to get a share of the league title.
The Buckeyes had to be every bit as physical as the Hoosiers inside and on defense.
Craft exemplified their tough style when he crashed hard to the court after attempting a layup on a fast break. He still played well enough down the stretch to prevent the Hoosiers from coming back.
“We were just more active tonight. There was no secret what they wanted to do,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “They wanted to go inside with Zeller and (Christian) Watford. But it was just more activity and we felt like we knew where they were going to be diving from. Kind of a do both type game. You had to do it and then take away the 3s.”
Zeller led the Hoosiers with 17 points and Watford finished with 12, but the Hoosiers didn’t immediately take questions because of the Senior Night speeches.
“We earned that right,” senior Jordan Hulls when asked about the net-cutting ceremony following a loss. “Obviously, we didn’t like to lose, but we earned that right to cut down the nets. We would have liked to have won but we couldn’t dwell on that.”
Clearly, this was not just another game for the Hoosiers.
During pregame ceremonies, Zeller and Victor Oladipo were recognized for joining the school’s 1,000-point club and were joined at midcourt by coach Tom Crean and the Hoosiers’ other two 1,00-point scorers, seniors Jordan Hulls and Watford.
Familiar names such as Kent Benson, the star of the undefeated 1976 national championship team, and Isiah Thomas, star of the 1981 national championship team, showed up to watch. Rock singer John Mellencamp took his traditional seat, too.
Students showed up with dozens of colorful signs that included phrases such as “Windiana” and waited outside for hours through the rain, sleet, snow and dropping temperatures to get as close as they could to the court all in anticipation of clinching that long awaited title.
None of that mattered to the Buckeyes, who scored the final seven points of the first half to take a 28-25 lead.
Indiana scored the first five points and made its first five shots of the second half to take a 39-34 lead.
Ohio State answered with a 14-4 run, and when Indiana closed to 50-48 with 7:07 to go, Craft and Thomas scored nine of the next 11 Ohio State points to pull away.
“We just kept telling our guys ‘Poise. Poise. Just keep your poise,’ and we made some big buckets,” Matta said. “We pressed a little bit there, but it’s like we told them ‘They’re scoring but we’re missing layups.’ I thought our guys played through it pretty well.”
No. 3 DUKE 85, VIRGINIA TECH 57
DURHAM, N.C. — Seth Curry scored 20 points in his final home game and Duke pulled away to beat Virginia Tech.
Fellow senior Ryan Kelly added 18 points in his second straight strong performance since coming back from an injury for the Blue Devils (26-4, 13-4 Atlantic Coast Conference).
They shot nearly 52 percent yet struggled for a while before outscoring the Hokies 32-10 during the final 12-plus minutes to finish unbeaten at home for the 17th time in school history.
Erick Green scored 25 points on 10 of 19 shooting to lead Virginia Tech (13-17, 4-13), which hasn’t beaten a team in the upper half of the league standings all season.
No. 9 KANSAS STATE 79, TCU 68
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Angel Rodriguez had 21 points and 10 assists and Shane Southwell and Martavious Irving both added 15 points as Kansas State beat TCU.
With the Senior Night victory, the Wildcats (25-5, 14-3 Big East) stayed tied with No. 4 Kansas for first place in the Big 12 with one regular season game to play.
Kansas State seniors Jordan Henriquez, Irving and Rodney McGruder extended their career win total to 99, more than any class in school history.
Kyan Anderson had 29 points for the Horned Frogs (10-20, 1-16), while Devonta Abron added 10.
The Wildcats kept their distance for most of the game, but the Horned Frogs made it interesting early in the second half by slashing into a 42-27 halftime deficit with a 12-2 run.
No. 15 MARQUETTE 60, RUTGERS 54
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Jamil Wilson scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including the late 3-pointer that put Marquette ahead for good, and the Golden Eagles rallied for a victory over Rutgers.
Vander Blue had 22 points and made two game-sealing free throws with 13.9 seconds left for Marquette (22-7, 13-4 Big East), which kept pace with Georgetown and Louisville for the regular season title with one game remaining. Junior Cadougan added points 10 for Marquette.
Myles Mack scored 11 points and Jerome Seagears added 10 for Rutgers (13-15, 4-13), which has lost five straight and 11 of 12.
The Scarlet Knights held their biggest lead at 35-23 early in the second half. Each time Marquette got close Rutgers answered but, with the Knights leading 50-43, the Golden Eagles went on a 12-2 run to take their first lead since 2-0. Wilson hit a 3-pointer with 3:05 remaining to make it 55-52.
No. 24 NOTRE DAME 66, ST. JOHN’S 40
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jerian Grant had 21 points and eight assists, Eric Atkins added 15 points and Notre Dame held St. John’s to 18 percent shooting in the second half in a victory.
The Fighting Irish (23-7, 11-6 Big East) ended a three-game losing streak to the Red Storm (16-13, 8-9), who lost for the fifth time in six games. Notre Dame’s Cameron Biedscheid and Sir’Dominic Pointer of the Red Storm got in a skirmish with 1:46 left in the game. Both players were given technicals and ejected.
Jack Cooley, who only played 15 minutes was held scoreless Saturday against Marquette because of an illness, went 0 for 2 in the first half against St. John’s before scoring 12 points in the second half. He had 13 rebounds in his final home game.
JaKarr Sampson led St. John’s with 12 points and Phil Greene added 10.
No. 25 MEMPHIS 56, UTEP 54
EL PASO, Texas — Chris Crawford scored 15 points and Adonis Thomas added 11 and Memphis remained undefeated in Conference USA with a victory over UTEP.
UTEP’s C.J. Cooper had an opportunity to tie the game after being fouled from beyond the 3-point line but he missed the first free throw. He made the second and purposely missed the third in an attempt to rebound the ball and get the win. Tarik Black was fouled getting the rebound for the Tigers (26-4, 15-0 CUSA).
Julian Washburn led UTEP (16-13, 9-6) with 19 points and Cedrick Lang added 10.
Memphis out-rebounded UTEP 38-25, but the Tigers had 16 turnovers to UTEP’s 12.
Memphis led by as many as seven points with 12:31 left before UTEP tied the game on a fast-break layup from Jacques Streeter with 9:26 left.