INDIANAPOLIS - With his left eye swollen halfway shut, blood splotches on his jersey, and three or four stitches in his eyelid, J.J. Sullinger had that "Rocky" look about him.
But the Ohio State senior and the rest of the Buckeyes were still standing at the end of yesterday's heavyweight bout with Indiana in a Big Ten tournament semifinal game at Conseco Fieldhouse, as 52-51 winners over the Hoosiers.
"I'm a big Rocky fan," said Sullinger, who led Ohio State with 19 points and 13 rebounds despite taking an elbow to the head with 14 minutes left in the game that forced him to leave the floor for medical attention.
"It was just two teams out there competing as hard as they could. I knew they'd battle us, and really, I wouldn't have it any other way."
Sullinger helped the Big Ten champion and top-seeded Buckeyes advance to today's championship game against No. 2 seed Iowa. His back-to-back 3-pointers helped Ohio State rebound from a 26-25 halftime deficit and lead 36-30 four minutes into the second half.
When Sullinger scored on the fast break with 13:52 left in the game, Ohio State held an eight- point advantage. He was injured seconds later under the OSU basket, but found his way back into the game within a few minutes, bandaged and cleaned up.
"J.J. is just a warrior out there, a banger," Ohio State senior Matt Sylvester said. "He's competitive by nature, and it really showed today."
The Buckeyes (25-4) built the lead to as many as nine with 10 minutes left, but Indiana scratched its way back and with 1:50 left the Hoosiers went up 51-50 on a baseline drive by Roderick Wilmont.
After an OSU miss, Sullinger rebounded an errant shot by Indiana's Marco Killingsworth with a minute left.
Ohio State's Je'Kel Foster missed a 3-point try with 50 seconds to play, but a Ron Lewis rebound kept the Buckeyes in possession.
Sylvester got free on a backdoor cut with 37 seconds left and after Terence Dials found him, Sylvester's layup put the Buckeyes up by one.
"They double-teamed me, and I saw him open, so it was a pretty simple play," Buckeyes senior Dials said of his pass to Sylvester.
Indiana (18-11) took a time out and set up its final sequence, and with seven seconds left Killingsworth missed a shot inside.
Wilmont rebounded and got a shot in the lane just before the horn, but it rolled out, sending the Buckeyes into the title game.
"When you get into these types of tournaments, it's all about surviving, and that's what we did today," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "Both teams played really, really hard out there."
The role Sullinger played in Ohio State's survival was not lost on his coach.
"He brings tremendous energy to every practice, to every walk-through and to every game," Matta said. "Today he was turned up full blast.
He got cut, he's got blood running down his face, and he's back out there battling. That's the kind of kid he is."
Sullinger, who hit 7 of 16 shots from the field, said a little advice from his father helped out.
"My dad and I talked about how when I step into it, I shoot a lot better," Sullinger said. "Today, I was just trying to step into my shot. I was just glad I could hit some shots and help my team. This was an Ohio State win, not a J.J. Sullinger win."
Dials added 13 points for the Buckeyes, who shot just 32 percent from the field in the game. After a 2-of-13 showing from
3-point range in the first half, Ohio State went to the basket more in the second half, with some success.
"The 3s weren't falling, but we're the type of team that if one thing isn't working, then we go to something else," Sylvester said.
"We started to look to drive the ball, and take it to the rim."
Wilmont led Indiana with 16 points, while Marshall Strickland had 12 and Killingsworth had 10.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.39.76691 -86.14996