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March 6, 2011

Revenge complete: Bucks cap off season right

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Jared Sullinger shared just how much he wanted to beat No. 10 Wisconsin with television personality Gus Johnson before Sunday's game against the Badgers.

Sullinger told Johnson that he'd like to beat Wisconsin by 50. Those aren't exactly the words of a player that didn't have revenge on his mind.

"That first loss I didn't take too lightly," said Sullinger, who was allegedly spit on by Wisconsin fans after Ohio State's first loss of the season in Madison. "I wanted to win, and I wanted to win big."

Sullinger didn't quite get the margin he was hoping for but he did get his wish.

The Buckeyes - though already having clinched the Big Ten Conference outright title before Sunday's tip - capped off a season to remember with a dominant 93-65 victory over the Badgers.

It wasn't by 50 points, but Sullinger will take Ohio State's (29-2, 16-2 Big Ten) performance in the final regular season game of his freshman season. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta agreed.

"I don't know if you could script it much better," said Matta, who has now led the Buckeyes to four Big Ten titles in six years. "Our defensive energy was incredible. Offensively the shots were falling. It was incredible how well we shot the basketball."

With the conference already locked up after Purdue fell to Iowa on Saturday, Ohio State didn't have much to play for in terms of where it would end up in the future.

The conference crown was already in place, seeding in the Big Ten Tournament was locked up, and Ohio State is all but assured of a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.

But that couldn't have meant any less to the Buckeyes. Though the team wouldn't admit it after the game, it was clear revenge was the prime goal for Ohio State on senior night.

"I was at my apartment, and we were getting ready to go to the hotel," said senior guard Jon Diebler, explaining where he was when he heard Purdue had lost. "To be honest, that game didn't really have an effect on our mood coming into this game. It was our senior day. We didn't want to lose on our home court."

Or better yet, lose to Wisconsin.

The pregame mantra was "Deal With It," a slogan in devised in reference to the comments made by Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan a day after the Badgers' initial victory over Ohio State Feb. 12.

Ryan was asked on a teleconference about the incident with Sullinger and the accusations that he was spit on in the face by a Badger fan. Ryan wasn't sympathetic to the occurrence.

"We won the game," Ryan said. "Deal with it."

And so it began.

On Ohio State's video board before the game the program played a hype-video that referenced the last time the two teams met on the hardwood. At the end of the video, the words "Deal with it" flashed for the crowd.

The Buckeye "Nuthouse" student section, comprised of 1,400 students sitting behind the teams' benches, all were given red towels with the slogan written on it. For 40 minutes of basketball, those towels were flaunted at the Wisconsin bench.

But perhaps what was more painful than the taunting toward Wisconsin's head coach was the fact the Buckeyes shot an NCAA record 14-of-15 from beyond the arc, backed the sharp-shooting senior Jon Diebler, who knocked down 7-of-8 attempts from beyond the arc. Diebler has now made 17 of his last 20 3-point attempts.

When asked about the commotion surrounding the "Deal with it" theme, Ryan was more concerned with Ohio State's success from beyond the arc.

"What towels?" Ryan asked. "I know one thing, towels didn't blow the ball in on all those 3s."

As the team walked off the floor with the Big Ten Championship trophy under its arms while being poured with continuous "deal with it" chants from the crowd, Ohio State had capped off a regular season that probably couldn't have gone better.

Matta said he'd like to jump straight into the NCAA Tournament with the way the Buckeyes have been playing, but for the remainder of the weekend Ohio State is content just celebrating its accomplishments.

Then it is on to phase two.

"Our first mission was a regular-season Big Ten championship. That's complete," said senior David Lighty said. "Now we'll turn our focus on a three-day tournament that we need to win and that will get us ready for the NCAA tournament. That's just step two of our three-step mission."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.



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