BLOOMINGTON – The road to a championship is always muddled and full of obstacles in the way.
Tom Crean’s Hoosiers know that, having endured three last place finishes in the Big Ten before their recent rise back to the top of the conference. Fans would know the same as they waited for success in rebuilding then fought through steady snow to get to the final home game on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
Getting a share of the Big Ten championship wasn’t easy and thanks to Ohio State getting the outright title would be even harder.
Just a few weeks removed from a double-digit loss at home to Indiana the Buckeyes held the Hoosiers offense down for most of the game and then pulled away late for a 67-58 win Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
The win denies Crean’s team from clinching their first outright Big Ten Championship since the 1992-1993 season. Still the Hoosiers can clinch the championship for themselves on Sunday with a win at Michigan.
In any scenario, the Hoosiers have already clinched a share of the conference title for the first time since 2002.
DeShaun Thomas prevented the home celebration by scoring a game-high 18 points for the Buckeyes who like four others in the Big Ten now pull to within a game of the Hoosiers in the standings. Cody Zeller led Indiana with 17 points.
“This is the epitome of bittersweet tonight as far as I can tell. We’re trying to celebrate what these guys have earned and at the same time we didn’t earn it tonight. We didn’t earn it tonight. So we just keep moving forward in a hurry. We’ll be back right back at it tomorrow and get ourselves ready for a great Michigan team. The good news is all of our stuff is correctable. The bottom line is we have to do that,” said IU Head Coach Tom Crean
Saying goodbye to three senior-Derek Elston, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford-the Hoosiers came out on an emotion high but Thad Matta’s Buckeyes were ready for the challenge. Neither team had a lead more than three points as ties and lead changes were the norm for the first 20 minutes.
Aaron Craft’s layup and free throw with 58 seconds left gave the Buckeyes a three-point lead at the break.
Similar circumstances played out early in the second half as both teams traded leads. Victor Oladipo’s dunk gave the Hoosiers a three-point lead with 13:58 left put after that the Buckeyes started to pull away slowly.
Ohio State was able to get the lead to five with just under ten minutes left and then pushed it to nine on a Thomas three-pointer with 4:24 to go. Lenzelle Smith Jr. would get a breakaway layup a minute later putting the Hoosiers behind by a season-high 11 points.
“I’m proud of this basketball team. We were knocked down and kicked to the ground and they’ve picked themselves up and responded at a really high level. We are not done yet; we’ve got to continue playing high level basketball. This was a tremendous win for these guys and for our program,” said Ohio State Coach Thad Matta.
Hulls would pull the Hoosiers to within six on a three-pointer with 37 seconds to go, but that is as close as the Hoosiers would get as a chance to win the Big Ten title outright will have to wait till at least Sunday.