CHICAGO - It was a simple plan, nothing that had to be sketched in detail or loudly explained as if it were a prototype play.
It was nothing that Ohio State, or any other basketball team for that matter, wouldn't do under the same circumstances on the last possession of the game: Get the ball in the hands of your best player and hope he makes the best of it.
That's what OSU guard Brent Darby did yesterday, breaking down Iowa's defense off the dribble and then scoring on a short bank shot with 1.3 seconds remaining to give the Buckeyes a 66-64 victory in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center.
For their determined effort in the face of some heavy odds - such as giving up a 12-point lead over the last 2:30 - the Buckeyes (15-13) get to play top-seeded and 18th-ranked Wisconsin (22-6) today at noon.
The Badgers defeated Ohio State 53-52 on a shot by their best player, guard Kirk Penny, with seven seconds to play in the only meeting of the season between the two teams in Columbus.
“We put the ball in the hands of our best player today, he delivered, and we were waiting for something like this to happen, something good,” said OSU coach Jim O'Brien, who had seen his team lose four of its last seven regular-season games.
It probably shouldn't have come down to that, all things being equal, but they weren't. The Hawkeyes (15-13) were without equal over the last 2:30 after falling behind 59-47 on two free throws by Darby.
Iowa scored on seven straight possessions, with their best player, guard Chauncey Leslie, accounting for seven points during the 17-5 run. It was his NBA-plus 3-pointer that tied the score at 64 with 22 seconds to play.
The Buckeyes called a timeout with 17 seconds remaining to set up the final play.
“We set up a play for me to come off a double screen, and if their man on the wing helped, it was for me to kick it out,” Darby explained. “When I came off [the screen] they switched and there wasn't any help. I waited a couple of seconds and then just tried to get to the basket one-on-one.”
The first question the exuberant O'Brien was asked after the game was, “How did you blow the 12-point lead?” An obviously annoyed O'Brien said, “You've got to give those guys a lot of credit. They made a couple of threes [actually three], and Chauncey Leslie took that team on his back.
“He made layups and a farther-than-an-NBA 3-pointer, so instead of anything we didn't do, give those guys credit because they willed themselves to stay in the hunt.
“This has been a rocky, roller-coaster ride for us all season. You have to ride the emotion, and the thing you can't do is get crazy when things are not going your way. We just needed to stay on top of everything, stay organized, and we were pretty organized in what we wanted to do at the end.”
Iowa coach Steve Alford said his team's remarkable comeback was a byproduct of “desperation.”
It was Darby, OSU's leading scorer, who took his team on his back in the second half after making just 2 of 10 shots in the first half. OSU shot 28.6 per cent from the field in the first half, but trailed only 27-23, thanks, mostly to 10 Iowa turnovers.
But it was a different Darby, and thus a different Ohio State, in the second half. Darby scored 14 of his game-leading 18 points in the second half, when the Bucks shot 57.6 per cent from the field. He also had seven assists and six rebounds.
“I talked to myself the whole game,” Darby said. “I was missing shots and I was saying, `Come on Brent, you can make these. Your team needs you,' things like that. I just kept playing.”
And now, so are the Buckeyes.