INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—J.J. Sullinger reveled in his temporary rock-star image Saturday—even if the cotton over his left eye looked out of place.
After scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, Sullinger high-stepped his way off the court playing air guitar for the Ohio State fans. The seventh-ranked Buckeyes can only hope the celebration didn’t come one day early.
Matt Sylvester scored on a layup with 37.4 seconds left, Indiana missed two chances to win it and Sullinger grabbed the final rebound to help Ohio State hang on for a 52-51 victory over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
“It came down to the last play of the game and you can’t really say that’s how you want it to go down,” Sullinger said. “But to win this game was huge for us and it makes us feel good about ourselves.”
Good enough for a dance apparently.
After Marco Killingsworth missed a 5-foot hook shot, and Roderick Wilmont missed a 7-foot jumper off the front of the rim, Sullinger grabbed the rebound, swung his arms around and kicked his leg up as he walked off the court.
It showed how much this game meant to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes (25-4) won their seventh straight and reached their first tournament title game since 2003. They now have a chance to join Illinois and Michigan State as two-time winners when they face No. 20 Iowa, a 53-48 winner over the Spartans, on Sunday.
They also solidified their seeding position for the NCAA tournament, one day after receiving three years of probation for NCAA violations.
Plus, they avenged an 81-79 loss in Bloomington in January by handing the Hoosiers (18-11) their first loss in six game.
And, as usual, this one came with the same intense, physical style that has characterized the rivalry in recent seasons.
From the early moments, Big Ten player of the Year Terence Dials and Indiana forward Marco Killingsworth traded jabs, elbows and barbs. During the first timeout, official Mike Sanzere walked over to Dials and told him to tone down the talking.
“It definitely was physical,” Dials said. “This was a tournament atmosphere, it’s just going to get us better prepared for the NCAA tournament.”
The battle of the big bodies was a virtual draw. Dials finished with 13 points, five rebounds and three blocks, while Killingsworth had 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Their teammates, however, got the message.
With Ohio State and Indiana mired in a defensive slugfest, Wilmont delivered the counterpunch off the bench. He finished with 16 points to lead the Hoosiers.
But nobody backed down.
Early in the second half, Sullinger was grazed across the left eye, a cut that forced him to come out while trainers bandaged it up. With 3:06 left, Indiana swingman Robert Vaden crashed to the floor with a left ankle injury. Two teammates helped him off the court, but coach Mike Davis said he would be ready to play next week in what the Hoosiers hope will be an NCAA tournament game.
When Saturday’s contest ended, Wilmont also lay on the floor holding his head—although that was more out of disappointment than injury.
“We got two good looks,” Wilmont said. “I think I tried to rush it because I didn’t know how much time was left on the clock, and I just missed it. I thought it was going in.”
It was that kind of game.
After a tough first half for both teams, Indiana led 26-25.
Then Sullinger started mixing it up. He opened the second half by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers before completing a three-point play that gave Ohio State a 34-28 lead with 16:00 left.
The Buckeyes extended their lead to as much as 47-38 with 8:34 to go, but the Hoosiers rallied by holding Ohio State scoreless for nearly five minutes. They eventually tied the score at 47 on Earl Calloway’s three-point play with 3:47 left.
“Guys played with their hearts and people forgot how tired they were,” guard Marshall Strickland.
Indiana reclaimed the lead when Wilmont drove the baseline for a layup with 1:50 left, but neither team could make anything until Sylvester broke free down low and Dials hit him with a nifty pass for the go-ahead layup with 37.4 seconds left.
Sylvester has a penchant for hitting winning shots, but this time he credited Dials for the play.
“I’ve been giving him assists here for five years now, so it’s about time he gave me one,” Sylvester said.
The Hoosiers went back to Killingsworth, but his short hook bounced off the rim. Wilmont grabbed the rebound, pivoted and missed the 7-footer, and Sullinger grabbed the rebound to start the celebration.
“You just try to do everything that you’re capable of doing, and I had no idea I had a double-double,” Sullinger said. “It’s just trying to go hard to the boards every time and shoot the ball when you get the chance.”