A preseason favorite to win the Big Ten regular-season title outright, Ohio State instead settled for a share of the championship.
The seventh-ranked and No. 3 seed Buckeyes begin their quest for a third straight Big Ten tournament title Friday night when they face sixth-seeded Purdue in a quarterfinal matchup in Indianapolis.
After losing three games in February, Ohio State (25-6) rebounded to win its final two and earn a share of the Big Ten title along with Michigan State and Michigan.
William Buford hit a shot from the top of the key with 1 second left to give the Buckeyes a 72-70 win over the Spartans on Sunday. Buford finished with 25 points while Jared Sullinger had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"This is about as high a level game as you'll see," coach Thad Matta said. "I'm happy we were on the side of it."
After putting up inconsistent numbers in mid-February, Sullinger closed the season with consecutive double-doubles, averaging 18.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. He had 11 offensive boards in a 75-73 win at Northwestern on Feb. 29.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore led the Buckeyes to their second consecutive Big Ten tournament title last season, averaging 16.3 points and 14.0 rebounds in wins over Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State.
Ohio State has won four tournament titles, including one in 2002 that was vacated due to NCAA sanctions. It has been to the championship game in three straight and five of the last six years.
While fans may be looking ahead to a potential rematch against the Spartans in the championship game Sunday, Ohio State is trying to focus on Purdue (21-11). Buford scored 21 of his career-high 29 points in the second half and the Buckeyes escaped with an 87-84 victory over the Boilermakers on Feb. 7.
"One thing we've always done going into these tournaments is try to take it one game at a time," Matta said Monday. "We never talk about going in there and trying to win a conference championship."
Purdue finished the regular season with five wins in seven games, and maintained that momentum with an easy 79-61 win over Nebraska on Thursday.
''I thought we had a healthy balance of making the right decisions and making the right play,'' coach Matt Painter said.
The Boilermakers shot 56.0 percent overall, went 13 of 25 from 3-point range and reserve guard Anthony Johnson led five players in double figures with a career-high 17 points. Robbie Hummel had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Hummel has plenty of motivation as he tries to win a Big Ten tournament title in his final season. He's suffered two ACL tears during his college career, one of which forced him to miss the 2010-11 season.
Hummel is averaging 21.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in the last eight games.
"I think the last five or six games we've played extremely well," Hummel said. "And I think that's what you always kind of strive for. Tomorrow's a huge game for us, I think not only in terms of getting our opportunity to play a ranked team, but it's an opportunity to improve our seeding."
Hummel had 13 points and eight rebounds against Ohio State last month, but shot 4 of 13.
Purdue and Ohio State have alternated decisions in the last six meetings. The Boilermakers defeated the Buckeyes to win the 2009 tournament title.
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