COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State Buckeyes are the clubhouse leader now in the Big Ten with a share of the league title and a guaranteed first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament after Jon Diebler went off for 21 points (all behind the arc) to lead Ohio State (24-7, 14-4) in the win over Illinois (18-12, 10-7) 73-57 to start a nine-day break before the conference tournament.
Tuesday night's game marks Thad Matta's third conference title in the six years that he has been in Columbus. Oddly enough all three titles clinchers have come at home on Ohio State senior nights.
Evan Turner rolled out another double-double but his numbers were quite pedestrian by his standards with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. But that couldn't wipe a smile off of his face as he entered the post game interview room clutching onto Ohio State's 18th Big Ten Championship Trophy.
"It feels great and amazing," Turner said. "I don't even know what to say but with all this work we put in and we always perceived through tough times and the stuff we did during the summer, growing as a team and going through all the controversy that we went through it is just amazing. It is just a testament to what we did."
William Buford chipped in 17 points and David Lighty had 15 of his own on the evening. Illinois was paced by Demetri McCamey who had 18 points and seven assists. But that wasn't enough for the Illini when it all came down to it and despite holding a six point lead in the first half the Buckeyes were able to have a counter punch for every move that Bruce Weber's team made.
Ohio State is the first team in Big Ten history since 1957 to win the Big Ten after starting out with a 1-3 league record. Things turned around for Ohio State when it went to Purdue and roared back from a 12 point halftime deficit behind 32 points from Turner. Matta joked that before the game in West Lafayette (Ind.) that he had some uneasy feelings.
"I tell the story that the day of the Purdue game we were sitting at 1-3 and I was on the 8th floor of the hotel and I had a balcony and I stood out there for about 20 minutes and I thought about jumping," Matta joked. "I said that with my luck it wouldn't do what I wanted it to do."
All joking aside Matta has had an impressive career resume and hopes that people will see him as more than a great recruiter.
"I have been blessed and I think this is 12 rings in 15 years," Matta said. "I said (to them) that the next more important ring is the next one."
The Buckeyes utilized a 17-5 run in the first half to give the Buckeyes some breathing room but Illinois came back early in the second half to cut it to two after a D.J. Richardson triple but that was as close as the Illini could draw.
Coming into Tuesday night's game Diebler had been mired in a 3-17 slump from beyond the arc but his seven triples made a huge difference and brought the near sellout crowd to a roar with each bucket.
"It felt good and the guys here had confidence in me," Diebler said. "They were collapsing on ET, Will and Dave when they were driving and it left open shot for me so I was fortunate to knock them down tonight."
After the game Turner and OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith signaled for players to storm the court and celebrate with the team. It was a dream come true for the Buckeye players.
"It felt like you could finally love out one of those moments that they show you when you get recruited here," Turner said. "They show you video of everyone on the floor celebrating and all happy. On ESPN we always see everyone rush the court. Dallas and I were talking about how nobody ever rushes the court here and we said that we had to give them a reason to rush the court."
The team will have time to rest until Friday before they get back to it and having one trophy in hand is not nearly enough for the Big Ten champs.
"But it is not all over yet and we have got a couple more trophies to worry about," Turner said.
Ohio State will be the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament and will play the winner of the 8/9 game on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis (Ind.).