COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—No one can overlook Ohio State now.
Terence Dials scored 20 points and the ninth-ranked Buckeyes broke the game open with a 14-2 blitz to start the second half to beat Purdue 76-57 on Sunday, clinching their first outright Big Ten title in 14 years.
Dogged by a lingering NCAA investigation involving people no longer with the program, and coming the year before a banner recruiting class, Ohio State never was mentioned when the talk turned to preseason favorites in the Big Ten.
“No one gave us a chance,” Dials said. “People across the country forgot about the Buckeyes it seemed. We didn’t get the credit we thought we deserved. We wanted to go out and prove a lot of naysayers wrong.”
J.J. Sullinger had 16 points for the Buckeyes (23-4, 12-4), who have won their last five games and are the top seed for this week’s Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Jamar Butler added 15 points.
“We’ve kind of flown under the radar to this point,” Sullinger said, referring to the Buckeyes’ late appearance in and slow rise in the polls. “But you’ve got to remember Ohio State now when you talk about (national) contenders.”
In the waning moments, with the outcome long decided, the Ohio State student section chanted, “Big Ten champs!” and “Thank you, seniors.”
“It’s a great life lesson for these guys,” second-year coach Thad Matta said. “If you commit to something and stay the course, anything’s possible.”
Despite a dreadful shooting day—he missed his first 11 shots from the field—Je’Kel Foster contributed eight points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals—and got the loudest reception when he left the game with a minute and a half left.
The Buckeyes have prospered with a lineup that includes three fifth-year players and another senior who always seemed to make plays when most needed.
“It was a good day to be a Buckeye,” Sullinger said. “It was an even better day to be a senior.”
The Buckeyes were eighth, ninth and sixth the last three years in the conference.
The outright title is the school’s first since Jim Jackson was the star in 1992—and only the second since 1971. It also marked the first time a Big Ten school has captured outright titles in men’s and women’s basketball in the same season.
Gary Ware scored 25 points for Purdue (9-18, 3-13), which lost four in a row to finish last in the Big Ten for the first time in 40 years.
Boilermakers coach Matt Painter offered his congratulations to the Buckeyes.
“They got picked fifth or sixth,” he said of preseason predictions. “Who cares about the rankings? These guys proved it.”
The Buckeyes held a tenuous four-point lead to start the second half but quickly sprinted away. Sullinger opened the half by hitting a 13-foot fallaway before Dials scored over Ware. Sullinger then dunked off a fast break assist from Matt Sylvester.
After Matt Kiefer scored for the Boilermakers, Sullinger had a three-point play after a behind-the-back pass from Foster that brought the capacity crowd of 18,500 to its feet.
Foster finally banged in a 3-pointer and Dials scored inside, and all of a sudden it was 49-33.
“I knew we had to come out of the gate and jump on Purdue,” Foster said. “We had to turn up our defensive pressure.”
Matta addressed the crowd after the Big Ten trophy was presented to his players.
“I asked these guys to help lay the foundation for the future of this program,” he said at midcourt. “It looks pretty damned good to me right now.”