MICHAEL CONROY / AP Enlarge
INDIANAPOLIS - The guys who were supposed to run out of gas before the finish line instead found some kind of higher octane blend and made a super-charged run to the Big Ten tournament championship Sunday.
Ohio State, with four members of its starting lineup rarely coming off the floor throughout the weekend, did not limp through the title game at Conseco Fieldhouse on tired legs. Instead, the Buckeyes turned a close game with Minnesota into a 90-61 rout.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said his team hardly discussed the X's and O's of the game during the halftime break.
"At halftime, we told them it was all about mind and heart," Matta said. "These guys were exhausted."
Toledo's William Buford, who played every second of Ohio State's quarterfinal win over Michigan on Friday and the double-overtime win against Illinois in Saturday's semifinal round, had needed two bags of intravenous fluids following the Illinois game because of dehydration and severe cramps.
Yet, with 1:36 left in yesterday's game and Buford in his 128th minute of basketball since noon Friday, he had enough bounce in his legs to send a 3-pointer from the wing into a nest of net and push Ohio State's lead to 26 points.
"I just got a little dehydrated against Illinois, but I felt fine today and the adrenalin just kicked in because it was a championship game," Buford said. "We play a lot of minutes, but we're used to it. When you're competing like that, you don't even think about being tired."
The Buckeyes led just 33-30 at the half, but were definitely the more energized and aggressive team over the final 20 minutes of the game. Big Ten player of the year Evan Turner got Ohio State started, and Minnesota could not hang around for long.
Turner scored on a backdoor cut to open the half, and then drilled a 3-pointer to give Ohio State its biggest lead yet at 38-30. A Buford 3-pointer on the fastbreak pushed Ohio State's lead to 11 before Minnesota mounted its last run.
The Golden Gophers (21-13), who were playing their fourth game in as many days, worked back within 42-40 with 13:30 left in the game before Turner shifted into another gear.
"I told him at that point to take the game over," Matta said.
Turner then hit a baseline jump shot and a 3-pointer from on top of the key. After a flurry of points from David Lighty, Ohio State's Jon Diebler buried a couple of triples, the second one coming on a fastbreak feed from Buford, and the Buckeyes led 62-45.
"I think it was really our defense that got things going," Diebler said. "When we are digging in and making stops on the defensive end, it always seems to pay off for us on offense. The shots were falling and we got on a pretty good roll. I suppose we should have been tired from three games in three days and all of the minutes we were playing, but I never felt it."
The Buckeyes (27-7) pushed the lead to 20 on a free throw by Turner with seven minutes to play. Ohio State, which in one stretch made 12 consecutive shots, outscored the Golden Gophers 57-31 in the second half. Minnesota had hoped to use its deeper bench to tire Ohio State, but the Buckeyes closed the deal before that could happen.
"They have so many weapons," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "We were kind of trying to wear them down ... it just seemed like they were much more ... not better conditioned, but you could say they were fresh."
Turner had 31 points and 11 rebounds with six assists, while Lighty had 20 points and seven rebounds. Diebler added 19 points and Buford had 13.
The Buckeyes earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament's Midwest Region, and will play on Friday in Milwaukee against No. 15 seed University of California Santa Barbara (20-9).
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