Despite lackluster long range shooting from both sides, Ohio State outslugged Wisconsin in the basketball equivalent of a fifteen round title fight that went to a judge's decision. Deshaun Thomas, like everyone else in the contest, was ice cold from beyond the arc, but still managed to be the leading scorer in the game. Ohio State jumped out to an early lead in the first half, but Wisconsin claimed a lead of their own before the two went back and forth for much of the second.
Traevon Jackson, the son of Buckeyes legend Jim Jackson, managed to lead the way in part for the Badgers, in a game that saw lead change after lead change in a tight second half. Super sub Sam Dekker also played a pivotal role in helping Bo Ryan's side stay in it with the Buckeyes. The trio of Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz, and Ben Brust also gave their best efforts to counter those of Thomas, Aaron Craft, and Sam Thompson.
Deshaun Thomas would miss the opening shot of the game, which would become a trend throughout much of the rest of the afternoon – not entirely for Thomas personally, but for the invisible lid that at at times seemed to afflict both sides. A below-his-usual-GIF-spectrum two-handed slam from Sam Thompson opened things properly, and started a Wisconsin paced back-and-forth first half scoring dool that would take the teams to 8-6 at the under-16 timeout.
The Bucks came out from the brief intermission with an eye on taking control. A Deshaun Thomas score on a great pass from Evan Ravenel helped expand a post timeout run to 13-8. But after briefly laying claim to what seemed like momentum, Ohio State went cold, rimming out three very make-able baskets and helping lead to a 15-13 Wisconsin lead, their first of the afternoon.
Wisconsin would use their accrued force to key a 14-0 run before a Deshaun Thomas jumper, Ohio State's first field goal in over five minutes, cut the Badgers' lead to 20-15. Part of the key to Wisconsin's early success was just one turnover during the first 15 minutes of play. Thomas being just 1-for-6 from the floor that juncture certainly didn't help the Buckeyes' cause and echoed a trend from the Big Ten semifinals in which he also struggled scoring the ball.
With Wisconsin up 24-15 and seemingly on the verge of seizing control of things, the Buckeyes dug deep and put together a critical 6-0 run with just over a minute to play in the first half. Thomas would then score the ball to get things down to 24-23 and a Shannon Scott steal just before the half helped ensure the margin would be just one with Wisconsin leading 24-23 at the half.
Out of the break, Amir Williams started things off with a brilliant move (one of his best of the season, in fact), giving Ohio State its first lead in some time. Each team would take turns both bricking threes and making put backs over much of the course of the remainder of the second half.
In an as tightly contested defensive contest as this one proved to be, illegal screens here, charges there proved critical in giving each teams temporary advantages over the other. After a Shannon Scott scoop gave the Buckeyes a 43-41 lead with under six minutes to play, a huge LaQuinton Ross rebound and-one put-back situation risked things getting away from the Badgers.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, Ross would miss the attempt from the charity stripe, but would quickly redeem himself with a steal on the other end. Try as they would, Wisconsin missed shot after attempt down the stretch with the Badgers ultimately going almost the final six-and-a-half minutes without a field goal. The Buckeyes would make their free throws to ice things and lay claim to a conference slate ending few Ohio State fans could've possibly envisioned coming to fruition.
After the contest, Aaron Craft was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Joining him on the all-conference team were Wisconsin's Jackson and Evans, Indiana's Cody Zeller, and teammate Deshaun Thomas. Quite the narrative change from where we were just weeks ago when a squak box who'll go without direct mention from East Lansing implied Craft's critical acclaim was little more than the result of affirmative action.
This mark's Thad Matta's fourth Big Ten men's basketball tournament championship and third in four years. Now the only question that remains for the Buckeyes is whether or not they played their way into the two seed line as some experts have projected. Ohio State will find out in just under an hour where they're headed, whom they'll be playing, and whether or not they'll kick off 2013 NCAA Tournament play on Thursday or Friday.
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