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March 17, 2013

Buckeyes capture Big Ten tournament title

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

CHICAGO -- Despite not finishing the regular season atop the conference standings, the Ohio State basketball team still managed to lay claim to a league championship this year, after winning this season's Big Ten tournament.

The second-seeded Buckeyes (26-7, 13-5) capped off their weekend run to a title- and continued an eight-game winning streak- with a 50-43 victory over No. 4 seed Wisconsin (23-11, 12-6) on Sunday. Ohio State's latest win comes one month to the day that the Badgers beat the Buckeyes by 22 points in Madison.

Ohio State hasn't lost since.

"As I told the team afterwards, I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a basketball team in terms of you look at this tournament and you look at this league, and we've gone 21 straight games, and to be standing atop of it today, last college basketball game of the regular season, incredible," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "That was a hard‑fought basketball game."

Fitting of what was one of the most competitive Big Ten seasons in recent memories, the league's tournament title game was closely contested and came down to the final minutes. Spurred by five points from reserve forward LaQuinton Ross, the Buckeyes closed the game on an 11-2 run, after neither team led by more than two points for the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Ohio State was led in scoring by forward Deshaun Thomas, who scored 17 points on Sunday, and was aided by nine points from junior guard Aaron Craft, eight from sophomore forward Sam Thompson, and seven from Ross.

The Buckeyes raced out to a 13-6 lead in the game's opening seven minutes, but soon fell behind thanks to a 14-0 Wisconsin run. Ohio State closed the half on a 10-4 run of its own, and headed into the locker room trailing by a score of 24-23.

"I can't say a few weeks ago we would have responded the same way that we did tonight. We did a good job of understanding there's a lot of basketball to be played, and we're capable of coming back," Craft said. "We just tried to stick together, stick to the system, not go solo, and we did a good job of staying to it, and fortunately enough we made some shots."

The second half saw the game's lead change hands a total of seven times throughout its first 15 minutes. A Shannon Scott steal and save along the Wisconsin baseline allowed Craft to take the ball the length of the court before finishing his drive with a reverse layup to give the Buckeyes' the final lead of the game.

"It feels great," Thomas said of the Big Ten tournament title. "It's a great accomplishment. We went through some battles through the season, some ups and downs, but we never gave up on each other, and I think this is so special for us as a team."

For his efforts this weekend- which included a 20-point performance in yesterday's win over Michigan State- Craft was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Joining Craft on the Big Ten's All-Tournament team were Thomas, Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson and Ryan Evans, and Indiana's Cody Zeller.

Sunday's win marks Matta's fourth Big Ten Tournament title, and his third in the past four years.

With the Big Ten's automatic bid in hand, the Buckeyes will now wait to see where they will be seeded in this season's NCAA Tournament, which begins next weekend. The tournament's field of 68 will be announced at 6 p.m. (ET).

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