COLUMBUS - Ohio State and Wisconsin both entered last week ranked No. 1 in the country, each holding the top spot in one of the major polls.
The two goliaths of the Big Ten then took every second of yesterday's game at Value City Arena to sort out who was the best in their conference.
The Buckeyes prevailed, winning a second straight regular-season Big Ten championship by beating the Badgers 49-48. It's the first back-to-back outright titles for OSU since winning from 1960-62 and the 22nd crown in school history.
Ohio State is 26-3 overall, and 14-1 in the Big Ten, after winning a 12th straight conference game. Wisconsin, drops to 26-4, 12-3. The Badgers entered No. 1 in the Associated Press poll and No. 2 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. The Buckeyes' rankings are reversed.
Mike Conley Jr.'s running shot down the lane trickled in with four seconds left to give OSU the lead, and then Ron Lewis blocked a shot just before the buzzer by Wisconsin's Kammron Taylor to preserve the win.
"I was just trying to make a play," Conley said about his game-winning shot. "I just had that feeling after the timeout, I knew I was going to get the ball. I was just trying to get around the defender, draw a foul, or get to the hoop. Coach told me to just go make a play."
Ohio State seven-footer Greg Oden, a high school teammate of Conley's, said he had confidence that Conley would get the Buckeyes the lead in that final sequence.
"You see what he did in the last seconds of the game - he just took over," Oden said. "He looked at me after the timeout and said 'we're not losing this game.' He shot it and I went to go rebound, but he had the confidence to shoot it, and that's what you want."
Lewis then hounded Taylor down the floor, and caught a lot of the ball as Taylor released anoff-balance jump shot from the
"We were just not letting them get an open look," Lewis said, "but I didn't know I was going to block it until he put it right in my face, and I blocked it."
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he felt there was contact on the final shot.
"Who wouldn't think that they were fouled?" Ryan said. "I've never met anybody who wouldn't think it was a foul - except the other team."
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said that with 3.9 seconds on the clock as Wisconsin came out of a time out for the final possession, he expected the Badgers would get some type of shot.
"We knew that they would get a shot off, but we wanted to keep them in front of us and challenge it," Matta said.
Playing in front of a hysterically loud packed house of more than 19,000 seemed to provide the Buckeyes with the emotional lift they needed to get past Wisconsin, a team that had given Ohio State it's only Big Ten loss, 72-69 in early January.
"I thought the atmosphere was off the charts today," Matta said.
"I couldn't hear anything - it was just too loud," Conley said.
The Buckeyes fell behind by six points in the game's first 10 minutes, then used seven straight defensive stops to take the lead.
Ohio State's biggest advantage of the first half was six, and the Buckeyes led 25-22 at the break.
The Badgers lost their leading rebounder, Brian Butch, for the entire second half after he sustained an elbow injury midway through the opening half.
The second half was a back-and-forth struggle with eight lead changes. Ohio State had the largest lead of the half at 34-29 on Daequan Cook's layup with 12 minutes left in the game. Ohio State's gut check came with 3:43 to play and Wisconsin leading by four at 46-42.
"I don't think anyone can imagine how hard it is to defend a championship," Matta said. "This game was such a seesaw battle. There was just punch after punch after punch."
A jump shot by Conley and a three-point play by Oden got Ohio State on top 47-46 with 2:47 left, and Wisconsin came out of the chaotic minute that followed with a basket inside from Alando Tucker for a 48-47 advantage with 55 seconds to play.
After Wisconsin rebounded a missed layup by Lewis, the Buckeyes had to foul four times in an 11 second span to get the Badgers into the one-and-one. Taylor missed his first shot from the foul line with 20 seconds left, setting up Conley's winning basket in the lane after an Ohio State timeout.
"Michael had a number of reads he could make in that situation, and I'm going to let him make the decision," Matta said. "Obviously, he made a good one."
Ivan Harris, a senior like Lewis playing his final game at Value City Arena, led Ohio State with 13 points, while Conley and Oden had 11 each. Wisconsin's Ryan credited Oden's presence in the middle with having a lot to do with the Badgers' 35 percent shooting.
"He's only down for four blocked shots, but you see that shooting percentage, and you know he causes a lot of other shots to be changed," Ryan said.
Oden, who some speculate might leave Ohio State after just one season to play in the NBA, sidestepped that topic after the game.
"That's a decision that's going to be made later," Oden said. "I always wanted to win a Big Ten championship, and that's been the first goal since I got here."
Ohio State will close the regular season Saturday at Michigan.
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