Ohio State won its only NCAA men’s college basketball title in 1960, but the Buckeyes have a legitimate chance for a second trophy given parity, and by claiming the Big Ten postseason championship with a victory over Wisconsin, 50-43, at the jammed-packed United Center in Chicago last Sunday.
Deshaun Thomas is the conference’s leading scorer with a 19.5 average, and though he struggled from the floor, making six of 19 field goal attempts, he tallied a game-high 17 points with seven rebounds.
“I’m one of the leaders on this team,’’ said Thomas, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who averaged 29.9 points and 13.9 rebounds during his high school career at Bishop Luers. “We tried to space the floor in the second half. I was a little fatigued, but I tried to be helpful. I didn’t have a good shooting night, but I’m going to shoot because I know that I can make the shot.’’
Ohio State (26-7) is the No. 2 seeded team in the West Regional, and will tangle with No. 15 Iona (20-13) in Friday’s opening-round match of the tourney in Dayton, Ohio.
If the Buckeyes advance, the next game will be against the winner between No. 7 Notre Dame (25-9) and No. 10 Iowa State (22-11) on Sunday.
The top-seeded teams are Louisville (29-5) in the Midwest Regional, Kansas (29-5) in the South Regional, Indiana (27-6) in the East Regional and Gonzaga (31-2) in the West Regional.
Even so, there isn’t a so-called “great team’’ in the bunch, and there are perhaps a dozen teams that can take the prize.
Ohio State, which shot 38.5 percent from the field (20 of 52), is capable of reaching the Final Four in Atlanta with the assistance of Thomas, junior point guard Aaron Craft, who scored nine points and grabbed six boards with one assist, sophomore small forward Sam Thompson, who had eight points and three caroms, and junior shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who tallied four points and pulled down eight rebounds.
Wisconsin (23-11) is a feisty, defensive-minded group that prefers to slow down the action to a crawl and are led by senior small forward Ryan Evans, who finished with six points and four rebounds and two assists, along with sophomore shooting guard Traevon Jackson, who dropped in a team-high 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Ohio State trailed at the half 24-23, then moved ahead 29-27 with 15:35 left. The two were tied at 37-37 with 8:36 showing, but the Buckeyes pulled in front 45-41 when sophomore small forward La Quinton Ross (seven points with four rebounds) scored with 4:15 left.
“We were looking for buckets,’’ said Ohio State Head Coach Thad Matta, who directed the Buckeyes to the title game in 2007. “We needed to spread the floor. La Quinton can also play the post.”
Ohio State jumped out to a 9-6 advantage when sophomore center Amir Williams (five points and four caroms) nailed one of two free throws and 14:27 remaining.
When Evans scored with 8:04 left, Wisconsin led 17-13, and the Badgers (18 of 47 for 38.3 percent) then outscored Ohio State 7-6 to take a 24-19 lead and one minute on the clock before Williams drained two from the charity stripe, and Thomas, a junior, converted a 12-foot jumper that pulled the Buckeyes within one point as the first half concluded.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.