INDIANAPOLIS – The Big Ten Tournament is what fifth-year senior forward David Lighty calls “mission two.” The Buckeyes are one game away from completing the mission and securing the championship.
The Buckeyes beat ‘that team up north’ for the third time this season, 68-61. The Wolverines (20-13) are now out of the Big Ten Tournament.
“Beating a team three times is tough because usually teams try to pick up on what the other team is doing,” Diebler said. “I think for the most part we executed both offensively and defensively tonight.”
Junior guard William Buford, struggling in the first 60 minutes of tournament play, came up big in the second half Saturday and finished with 14 points. Senior guard Jon Diebler was the top scorer for the Buckeyes with 16 off of 6-for-12 shooting.
“Last year (in the tournament) we had too many close games, right down to the wire. So I feel like we’ve been a little better this year, especially on defense,” Buford said.
Up next for Ohio State is Penn State. The Nittany Lions dusted off Michigan State today, 61-48. With the win, Penn State enters its first Big Ten Tournament championship game.
“We’re going to go over film of these guys and watch both tapes. We did some things at State College we don’t normally do,” Penn State sophomore guard Tim Frazier said. “We let Diebler get his shots off. We’re going to try and stop that, and run and execute like we did today so we can come out with a win.”
OSU looks to have a No. 1 seed locked up in the NCAA Tournament, if not the No. 1 overall seed. But coach Thad Matta stressed the team is determined to win its upcoming championship game against Penn State regardless of where it ends up in the big dance.
“You get in this tournament, and quite honestly you become ultra-competitive,” Matta said. “We’re going to play a really good team again tomorrow, as we have the first two games.”
The Buckeyes have already played the Nittany Lions on two occasions this season. Penn State played the Buckeyes close at the Schottenstein Center, before the Buckeyes eventually won, 69-66. The second game in University Park, Pa., was a drubbing, as the Buckeyes topped the Nittany Lions, 82-61.
The second game was a record-setting night for one Buckeye. Diebler was scorching hot from beyond the arc, hitting on 10 of his 12 attempts from deep. It was Penn State senior guard Talor Battle’s final regular-season home game, and he led the Lions with 18 points, five boards and three assists.
“That second time we lost to them, we still got that taste in our mouth,” Battle said. “So we can’t wait to play them. We know we have to do a great job on Sullinger, and we can’t allow Diebler to hit 10 thre’s.”
In the locker room after the game, Diebler talked about what’s made the Buckeyes so tough to compete against this season.
“We’ve got a very mature bunch with four guys who played a lot of minutes last year, and the young guys now aren’t so young anymore. It just makes for a good combination,” Diebler said.
Freshman forward Jared Sullinger echoed Diebler’s sentiments while discussing the contributions from freshmen Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert.
“We’ve been together. As a team, we’ve been focusing on the task at hand and that’s winning. They haven’t looked away or gave up on this team; they’re always focused,” Sullinger said.
The Buckeyes are headed into their third consecutive game in which they’ll have a tough matchup at point guard. Craft most likely will be assigned to Battle, Penn State’s leading scorer with 19.8 points per game to go along with three assists.
Tipoff is at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse.