COLUMBUS The last time the Ohio State Buckeyes won an outright Big Ten basketball championship, a 6-6 standout from Toledo s Macomber High School led the way.
Jim Jackson has been a pro for more than a dozen years now, and the Buckeyes are stalking another championship they can call their own. As the Big Ten enters its final week of the season, four teams are still in the race for the title Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa but the Buckeyes have the advantage of controlling their own destiny.
Senior Terence Dials, who yesterday was named the Big Ten player of the week after his back-to-back double-doubles helped the Buckeyes position themselves for the championship, reined in the title talk, at least until tomorrow night s game at Northwestern is behind him. A win over the Wildcats assures No. 9 Ohio State ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season of no worse than a tie for the Big Ten crown.
Our focus right now is Northwestern, Dials said. They have had some upsets there. We can t just think the Big Ten championship is ours. We have to try and get a tough road win. Every road game is tough to get. We just have to go out against Northwestern and try and get something done.
Dials led the Buckeyes to wins over Michigan State and Michigan last week.
The 6-9 product of Boardman High School had 19 points with 10 rebounds in a critical win on the road against the Spartans, then made it five straight double-doubles with 22 points and 11 rebounds against Michigan.
Ohio State second-year coach Thad Matta said Dials senses the sand slipping through the hourglass as his career nears its end, and has a renewed sense of urgency about his play. Dials ranks sixth all-time in rebounds at Ohio State (823) and 16th in scoring (1,454).
Terence is really playing great basketball right now, Matta said. I think he s in the best shape of his life and he is finishing much better than he was earlier this season. He continues to score and rebound well, and his defense is much improved.
Matta did not want to comment on the championship picture and how the Buckeyes will dictate just how it is drawn, instead zeroing in on that pesky Northwestern team that had the Buckeyes down 12 at Value City Arena just 10 days ago. Ohio State eventually won 61-52, and Matta reminded his players of the difficult time they had when he spoke to them about tomorrow night s game in the moments following the win over Michigan.
We have to get ready to play Northwestern, Matta said. That s really all I said after the game. We re fortunate it comes back quickly after just playing them [Feb. 18]. We just have to focus on trying to beat Northwestern.
Previous Big Ten co-leader Iowa lost at Illinois on Saturday, and the door opened for the Buckeyes. If Ohio State can sweep past Northwestern and then beat last-place Purdue in the final home game for Dials and fellow seniors Matt Sylvester, J.J. Sullinger and Je Kel Foster, the title will reside in Columbus.
Sullinger said taking the lead in the conference in the final week of his senior season has storybook value.
This meant a lot, he said. It s huge for us. Being a senior, I couldn t ask for any better way to go out.
The Buckeyes have won 17 Big Ten regular-season championships, 10 of them outright titles and the other seven shared. Ohio State got a piece of the conference title in 2000 and again in 2002 under coach Jim O Brien, who is currently involved in a contentious multi-million dollar lawsuit with Ohio State.
With that messy affair simmering in the background, and the recent public speculation that Matta might be a candidate for the upcoming vacancy at Indiana, the Ohio State coach lauded his team for centering its vision on a Big Ten title.
I don t think anyone can ever imagine [what they ve gone through], Matta said. Please don t give me any credit for this. It s those 11 guys in there. They ve been as solid and focused and committed as we could ask. I don t know if I ve ever had a team more committed to just going out and doing what it needed to do.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.
COLUMBUS The pivot players on Ohio State s men s and women s teams were the centers of attention in the Big Ten yesterday.
Terence Dials was the men s player of the week and Jessica Davenport captured the women s award for the fourth time this season.
Dials had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Michigan State and 22 points and 11 rebounds in a victory over Michigan. He hit 64 percent of his shots from the field in the games.
Davenport, a junior, scored at least 20 points in each of the Buckeyes three wins last week while winning the player of the week award for the ninth time in her career. Only Penn State s Kelly Mazzante (2001-2004) has won it more (17 times). The Buckeyes have clinched the Big Ten regular-season title.
Davenport had 22 points in a 69-38 win over No. 14 Michigan State, had her 10th double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds against No. 12 Purdue and then had 24 points in a win at Penn State.