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Ohio State beats Penn State to complete second step of ‘mission’

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor

INDIANAPOLIS — Earlier this week, Ohio State fifth-year senior forward David Lighty called this season a three-step mission. On Sunday, the Buckeyes completed the second step of that mission, beating Penn State, 71-60, to give OSU its second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title.

“This is a very exciting time for us. This was one of our goals when we met in the summer … to come out and, first of all, win the regular season, then to win the Big Ten Tournament,” OSU senior guard Jon Diebler said. “We’re happy we accomplished this. We’re going to enjoy it tonight and then get back to work.”

In the first half of Sunday’s championship game, the Nittany Lions fought back from an eight-point deficit, cutting the Buckeyes’ lead to one, before a block by OSU senior center Dallas Lauderdale ignited a fast break that led to a driving layup by Diebler to extend the OSU advantage to three. Moments later, Diebler connected on a 3-point shot at the buzzer to give the Buckeyes a 29-23 lead heading into halftime.

“I was just fortunate to make a shot, I guess. I knew time was running down,” Diebler said. “It was just great momentum going into halftime.”

Diebler picked up right where he left off in the second half, connecting on a 3-point shot to spark a 17-6 run to start the half, as the Buckeyes extended their lead to as many as 17 points.

“We always had the confidence; we just had good shots; we just wasn’t knocking shots down,” OSU junior guard William Buford said. “We knew if we played good on defense that eventually our shots would fall on offense.”

Buford led the Buckeyes in scoring with 18 points against the Nittany Lions.

OSU freshman Jared Sullinger recorded his third double-double in as many games, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, as he set the school’s tournament record for rebounds with 42 for the weekend. For his efforts, Sullinger was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Sullinger, along with Buford and Diebler, represented OSU on the All-Tournament team, joining Northwestern’s Michael Thompson, Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas and Penn State’s Talor Battle.

Battle led the Nittany Lions in scoring with 24 points in the championship game, and senior forward Jeff Brooks added 19 points for a Penn State team playing in its first conference tournament title game in school history.

With the win, the Buckeyes captured their conference-record third Big Ten Tournament title, having also won the 2010 and 2007 titles. OSU had its 2002 tournament title vacated because of sanctions stemming from NCAA rules violations.

Sunday’s win gives Lighty his third Big Ten Tournament title, the most of any player in conference history.

“You stick around long enough, like I always say, things like that happen,” Lighty said. “Without my team, all that is not possible. You got to commend them, and especially our coaching staff on doing a great job of keeping us focused.”

Having won both the conference’s regular-season and tournament titles, the Buckeyes locked up the No. 1 overall seed for this year’s NCAA Tournament. OSU will face the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State on Friday in Cleveland.

“It’s one and done now, so you’ve just got to take it one game at a time and focus on your opponent,” Sullinger said. “At the same time you just want to win. I mean, everybody has a mentality of winning on this program.”

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