MICHAEL CONROY / AP Enlarge
INDIANAPOLIS - With a minute to play in a basketball game with Illinois that had stretched and extended its way into some kind of epic war of attrition, Ohio State lost Evan Turner, the Big Ten player of the year.
When Turner fouled out, the crowd gasped because the unfathomable would now have to be fathomed - the Buckeyes would have to fight on against the Illini without their leader, the conference's top scorer and rebounder.
The Buckeyes did, and eventually prevailed 88-81 in double-overtime yesterday at Conseco Fieldhouse to advance into today's Big Ten tournament championship game against Minnesota.
Before fouling out, Turner had twice brought Ohio State back from eleventh-hour deficits, scoring the final basket of regulation with 11 seconds left to tie the game, and then scoring the final basket of the first overtime with 22 seconds remaining to push the game to a second extra period.
Ohio State led by just three when play resumed after Turner's exit, but the Buckeyes, who made a rare foray into their bench to cover his absence, shut the Illini down and won while Turner played the awkward role of cheerleader.
"I told them to just finish strong," said Turner, who had hit a near 40-foot shot at the buzzer on Friday to give the Buckeyes a one-point win over Michigan in the quarterfinals. "I told them we're a better team, and just do what we've got to do."
Ohio State's Jon Diebler, who hit a 3-pointer to open the second overtime and put the Buckeyes ahead for good, said there was no panic in the ranks with Turner out.
Ohio State had essentially played the month of December without Turner after he fractured two vertebrae falling to the floor after a dunk, so Diebler said the Buckeyes were confident, despite the absence of Turner, who has been dominant since his return in early January.
"Obviously, we're a better team with him out on the floor, but we had to learn to play without Evan while he was injured, so I knew we would get through it," Diebler said. "We were very confident that we have enough play-makers on this team and we'd get the job done."
William Buford had scored down the lane in a crowd to put the Buckeyes up 84-80 before Turner fouled out.
David Lighty hit a driving basket to stretch the lead to six, and then added a fastbreak bucket after a steal in the final 30 seconds of the second overtime.
"We were tired, but our guys just kept on fighting," Lighty said. "It was that way all day long."
Ohio State (26-7) trailed most of the final 10 minutes of the first half, and was down 37-31 at the break.
Illinois stretched that lead to 50-39 with 12:52 to play in regulation before Turner started to lead Ohio State back.
When Buford buried a 3-pointer with eight minutes remaining, Ohio State had scored 20 straight points to take a 59-50 lead. Illinois surged back and trailed by just one with two minutes left.
Demetri McCamey put the Illini out front with a 3-pointer, and after a Turner basket tied it, McCamey then hit two free throws to give Illinois a 66-64 lead with 30 seconds to play.
Turner drove through a crowd and converted a reverse layup with 12 seconds left to tie the game at 66, and after Illinois could not get a shot off, a first overtime was forced.
Illinois (19-14) led by four midway through the first overtime, but Turner hit four straight free throws, and then another twisting layup with 22 seconds left to tie the game at 75-all. Ohio State was able to prevent Illinois from getting a shot off in the remaining time, mandating a second overtime.
"We had to hit some shots, but we also had to make some key defensive stops late in the game, and in the overtimes," Ohio State's Dallas Lauderdale said. "We had to match everything they did, and then try and do more. We had to be the tougher team at the end."
Turner had 31 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Buckeyes, while Buford joined the double-double club with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Diebler added 14 points and Lighty had 12.
Minnesota advanced to meet the Buckeyes for the title with an easy 69-42 win over Purdue in yesterday's other tournament semifinal game.
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