No. 1 Ohio State 66, No. 3 Wisconsin 49
CHICAGO (AP)—Greg Oden heard the chants for one more year from the Ohio State fans and did his best to ignore them.
Time will tell if the 7-foot freshman grants their wish or answers the call of the NBA, but his mind was on other things Sunday.
Like celebrating No. 1 Ohio State’s Big Ten championship victory over Wisconsin.
Like the NCAA tournament, where the Buckeyes will be a top seed.
Oden wasn’t at his best, but Mike Conley and Ron Lewis compensated as the Buckeyes beat No. 3 Wisconsin 66-49 to win their second conference tournament title.
Conley scored 18 points, Lewis added 17, and now, Ohio State can focus on the big prize.
The Buckeyes have the No. 1 seed in the South regional and will face Central Connecticut State on Thursday in Lexington, Ky. Wisconsin got the second seed in the Midwest and a matchup with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday at the United Center.
“We’re really looking forward to getting down to Lexington because it’s pretty close to home,” Conley said.
“It’s going to be an exciting time,” Oden said. “I’m ready for it.”
Besides having to cram for Central Connecticut, Oden has finals in sociology and the history of rock ‘n’ roll this week. Although they didn’t earn an A, the Buckeyes passed a big test on Sunday.
Oden finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks after playing just six minutes in the first half against the Badgers, but Conley and Lewis did enough to lift Ohio State (30-3) to its 17th straight victory. Conley had eight assists and six rebounds, and Lewis was 6-for-12 from the field.
Meanwhile, Buckeyes fans serenaded Oden with a “One more year!” chant during the postgame ceremony, but the teen phenom said he hasn’t “even thought about” whether he will return for another year of college basketball.
Big Ten player of the year Alando Tucker missed his first six shots for Wisconsin and finished with 10 points. He was 4-of-13 from the field. Kammron Taylor scored 15 points, but was just 6-for-18. The Badgers (29-5) never found their range, going 21-for-57 overall and 4-for-23 on 3-pointers. They also committed 17 turnovers.
The Buckeyes and Badgers split two nail-biters during the regular season, but this time the drama ended with about 6 1/2 minutes remaining.
With the score 48-40, Ohio State’s Jamar Butler retrieved a loose ball near midcourt after having it knocked away and buried a 3-pointer from beyond NBA range with about 3 seconds left on the shot clock and 6:35 remaining in the game. Ron Lewis all but punctuated the victory two minutes later with a breakaway dunk after catching a long pass from Conley. That made it 57-45.
“They have a lot of athletes on that team, and they like to get up and down,” Taylor said. “I think the first two times that we played them, we kind of controlled that, and we let it get away from us. Today, we allowed them to get out and get on a break, and it caught up with us.”
The Badgers were unable to sustain a run.
Down 34-23 early in the second half, Wisconsin scored six straight. Taylor’s pull-up jumper drew a loud reaction from the large contingent of Badgers fans, and the volume increased when Marcus Landry dunked in transition to cut it to 34-29. Ohio State called time, and the Wisconsin faithful chanted, “Let’s go red!”
Instead, they stalled.
There were no late runs, no theatrics, unlike the first two meetings between these teams. Wisconsin hung on for a 72-69 victory Jan. 9 in Madison as Butler missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Buckeyes returned the favor Feb. 25 in Columbus, winning on Conley’s runner in the lane with 4 seconds left to clinch their second straight regular-season conference title.
This time, Wisconsin was fortunate to stay within striking range until the latter stages.
“I think what happened was the quickness of Conley with the ball and Oden being such a presence inside, there’s two pretty big factors of why things turned out the way they did,” coach Bo Ryan said.
The Badgers trailed 26-20 at halftime, but it could have been much worse considering they went seven minutes without a point early, hit just nine of 27 shots, and committed 12 turnovers.
It helped that Oden spent most of the half on the sideline and did not attempt a shot.
After averaging 19.5 points and 13.5 points in the first two tournament games, he got called for a charge just over a minute into this one and went to the sideline about three minutes later after hitting the floor while going for an offensive rebound. He re-entered the game midway through the half, but spent the final 7:03 on the sideline after picking up his second foul.
It was a tough half for someone who has drawn comparisons to some of the game’s great centers.
“I’m just a college player, just playing and making my team win,” Oden said. “You really can’t compare me to any of those guys.”