Ohio State rolls to Big Ten championship
Jared Sullinger’s shot was off throughout the Big Ten tournament — and he still dominated.
The freshman forward had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 1 Ohio State defeated Penn State 71-60 in the Big Ten tournament final on Sunday.
Sullinger made just 12 of 36 field goals in the tournament, but he still was named most outstanding player. He averaged 16.3 points and 14 rebounds to help the top-seeded Buckeyes (32-2) repeat as champions.
Sullinger made up for his poor shooting by setting a tournament record with 38 free throw attempts in three games.
”It’s just Jared,” Ohio State guard David Lighty said. ”He can affect the game without scoring. Especially shooting 15 free throws a game. He’s knocking those down and getting every rebound that’s around him. You really can’t stop that.”
Ohio State guard Jon Diebler said Sullinger’s approach makes him special.
”He’s just a great teammate to have, very unselfish. You know, I can honestly say we probably wouldn’t be here without him and how he’s performed this year,” Diebler said.
William Buford scored 18 points and Diebler added 15 for the Buckeyes.
Shortly after the win, the Buckeyes learned they had received the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Ohio State will play either Texas-San Antonio or Alabama State in the second round Friday in Cleveland.
Ohio State headlines seven selections from the Big Ten. Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan were awarded at-large bids.
”There’s a lot of great teams, a lot of great players in our conference,” Diebler said. ”It’s just unbelievable the amount of talent here, and I think the Big Ten should have a good showing in the tournament.”
The Nittany Lions hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2001.
Talor Battle scored 24 points and Jeff Brooks added 19 for Penn State (19-14), which reached the Big Ten final for the first time.
Penn State was trying to become the first team since Iowa in 2001 to win four consecutive games to claim the tournament title, but it ran out of energy.
”I was definitely tired,” Battle said. ”In the second half, I was wide open at the top of the key for a 3-pointer and I barely even hit the front rim. I hit that shot in my sleep. I just had no legs. I just left it flat. That’s the first time I realized I was a bit winded.”
Penn State’s Tim Frazier, who scored 22 points in the semifinal win over Michigan State, didn’t score against Ohio State until 6:50 remained and finished with five points.
The Nittany Lions had allowed 45.3 points per game in their three tournament wins, but Ohio State surpassed that total with 13 minutes remaining. The Buckeyes shot 64 percent from the field in the second half.
The Buckeyes won their seventh straight game and became the second team in conference history to play in the final for three straight years. They also became the first repeat tournament champion since Michigan State in 1999 and 2000, and both of those teams reached the Final Four.
Ohio State started slowly. Battle drained two early 3-pointers, but Ohio State still led 10-8 before going on a 6-0 run that caused Penn State to call a timeout.
Aaron Craft, who shared responsibility with Buford for guarding Battle, said it was a challenge.
”Talor’s a great player,” Craft said. ”He does a great job of changing speeds, and you never know where he’s going to go. Once I got into the game, I tried to do my best to keep him in front of me, and at times, he still goes by me.”
It took more than nine minutes for a Penn State player other than Battle to score, but once his teammates began producing, the gap closed. Two free throws by Jermaine Marshall cut Ohio State’s lead to 22-21.
Ohio State closed the half strong, and Diebler’s 3-pointer over Battle at the buzzer gave the Buckeyes a 29-23 lead.
”It was a huge momentum boost, especially because I thought we defended him pretty well,” Battle said. ”We were scrambling, I was right there in his face, and he just knocked it in. It took the lead from three to six and gave them a little momentum going into the half.”
Ohio State continued its sharp shooting early in the second half. Consecutive 3-pointers by Buford and Craft gave the Buckeyes a 46-29 lead with 13 minutes to go.
Battle made another 3-pointer with 5 minutes remaining to cut Ohio State’s lead to 57-47, but Sullinger responded with a three-point play that halted Penn State’s rally.
”I’m proud of our kids,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. ”We came in, we competed. We missed a lot of easy shots early. We weren’t very crisp. And they’re a very good team.”