BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In hoops-crazed Indiana, it wouldn't be far-fetched to say that most kids grow up dreaming of hitting big shots inside of Assembly Hall -- they just don't typically imagine doing it for the visiting team.
But that's exactly what Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas did on Tuesday, sinking a corner three-point shot with fewer than five minutes remaining in the Buckeyes' 67-58 win over No. 2 Indiana (25-5, 13-4). With the victory, OSU remains alive in its quest for a fourth-consecutive Big Ten regular season championship, now needing a win over Illinois on Sunday, followed by a Michigan defeat of the Hoosiers later that day to clinch a share of the conference crown.
"We in a great position right now," Thomas said. "Now we're going to focus on Illinois and hope that IU gets another upset at Michigan."
A native of Fort Wayne, Ind., Thomas led all scorers on Tuesday with 18 points, but struggled with his shot for most of the game while being held to a 6-for-17 performance from the field. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, their leading scoring was aided by 15 points from OSU point guard Aaron Craft, who scored 10 points in the second half and connected on consecutive jumpers with the shot clock winding down to help his team maintain a four-point advantage in the game's final five minutes.
"The way that they guard, I was able to get open a little bit," Craft said. "They're shots that I've worked on and practiced all offseason and all throughout this year. I was fortunate to see the open shots and knock them down."
Craft's offensive array was just a sign of things to come for Ohio State. Thomas followed with what he proclaimed to be a "dagger" three-point shot in front of his hometown crowd, moments before a Shannon Scott steal led to a Lenzelle Smith Jr. dunk that gave the Buckeyes an 11-point lead and capped off a 27-11 OSU run.
"We knocked down shots and we got shots when we needed," Thomas said. "This is one of the great performances that I've seen in my career at Ohio State as a team."
Prior to their big run, the Buckeyes never trailed by more than five points against an Indiana team that beat them by 13 points on their own home court less than a month ago. OSU took a three-point advantage into halftime behind nine points from Sam Thompson, while not allowing Hoosiers star Victor Oladipo to attempt a single shot in the first half.
It didn't take long for Oladipo to get on the board after intermission, with the junior guard connecting on a three-pointer to tie the game just 28 seconds into the second half. That started a streak of seven consecutive possessions with a score for the Hoosiers, but unlike their meeting on Feb. 10 in Columbus, the Buckeyes punched back.
Six points from OSU center Evan Ravenel highlighted a 10-4 Buckeyes run to put them back on top after Indiana stretched out to its largest lead of the game. It was Ravenel's layup with 12:02 remaining that gave Ohio State the final advantage of the night in a game where the Buckeyes never led by fewer than six points in the final 4:51 of action.
"We just kept telling our guys, 'Poise, poise. Just keep your poise,'" OSU coach Thad Matta said. "We made some big buckets. We pressed a little bit there ... I thought guys played through it pretty well."
After allowing Oladipo, Cody Zeller, and Christian Watford to outscore them on their own with 70 combined points three weeks ago, the Buckeyes held Indiana's top trio of scorers to just 36 points on Tuesday night. Zeller led the way with 17 points for the Hoosiers, but foul trouble forced the sophomore center to spend the final 5:47 of the first half saddled to the bench, and Oladipo finished with just seven points on the night.
"We were much more aware of where guys were," Matta said. "We knew we had to create more havoc defensively and challenge shots better."
Barely two weeks removed from a 71-49 loss at Wisconsin that knocked them down to fifth place in the Big Ten standings, Ohio State appears to be fully recovered from its biggest loss in more than three years. Should they take care of business, the Buckeyes might be the biggest Michigan fans on the planet come 4 p.m. Sunday, but that game will prove to be meaningless to them should they fail to defeat an Illinois team that beat them by 19 points on Jan. 5.
"I just want to take care of Illinois," Matta said. "I don't even know when (Michigan and Indiana) play, to be honest with you."