COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Ohio State’s players would watch other schools rush the court and they always wondered what it would be like if they were in the midst of such a wild celebration.
Now they know.
Jon Diebler once again lit up Illinois from behind the arc, hitting seven 3-pointers for 21 points, to lead the sixth-ranked Buckeyes to a 73-57 victory on Tuesday night that assured them of at least a share of the Big Ten title.
After the game, just as the Buckeyes had hoped, they were mobbed by fans.
Evan Turner and Dallas Lauderdale had discussed what the reaction would be if they won the title.
“Watching other schools rush the court, I said, ‘Dang, I just wonder how it would be if that was to happen!”’ Lauderdale said. “Evan was like, ‘Let’s make it happen.’ So that’s what we did.”
It was the third conference title in the last five years for Ohio State (24-7, 14-4), winners of four straight overall and 13 of 15.
“It felt like you could finally live out one of those moments that they show you when you get recruited here. They show you video of everybody on the floor celebrating, all happy,” said Turner, who had his typical, all-around game with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. “That was cool.”
After the game, fans swarmed onto the court and cheered while several players ran over to their families to celebrate with them.
The crowd chanted “One More Year!” for Turner, a front-runner for national player of the year who has not decided if he will give up his senior season to jump to the NBA.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Turner, who missed 4 1/2 weeks with broken bones in his back while the Buckeyes lost three of their first four Big Ten games. “All this hard work we put in, we always persevered through tough times. The stuff we did during the summer, growing as a team and going through all the (things) we went through, this is a testament to (that). It’s a great accomplishment. It’s great.
“But it’s not over yet. We’ve got a couple of more trophies to worry about.”
Athletic director Gene Smith presented the Big Ten championship trophy to the players—it was the school’s 18th title—while the band played. The Buckeyes will be the top seed in the Big Ten tournament, after taking a nine-day rest, and will likely be a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
William Buford added 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists but it was David Lighty, who finished with 15 points, who might have provided the biggest spark for the Buckeyes in the second half.
The lead hovered around four points until sub Kyle Madsen hit a baseline jumper and, after an Illinois turnover, Lighty took one quick step to the basket and scored on a left-handed layup while Illini big man Mike Tisdale picked up his third foul. Lighty’s three-point play pushed the lead to 58-49 with 9 minutes left.
“Coach (Thad Matta) was telling us to drive and attack,” Lighty said. “(Power forward Mike) Davis was guarding me and he’s a little bit slower than me. I just tried to be aggressive.”
Five straight points by Buford and a basket by Turner on a 3-on-1 fastbreak pushed the lead to 65-51 with less than 7 minutes left.
Diebler hit six 3-pointers and scored 18 points in the Buckeyes’ 72-53 rout at Illinois on Feb. 14.
“They can use their athleticism to spread us out,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “When Diebler shoots like that, it really puts you in a bind.”
Diebler never took a shot inside the arc, hitting half of his 14 attempts.
“The guys had confidence in me,” said Diebler, who was just 3 of 17 on 3-pointers the last two games. “They were collapsing on ET, Will and Dave and they were driving. It just left open shots for me. I was fortunate to knock them down tonight.”
DeMetri McCamey had 18 points for the Illini (18-12, 10-7), who have lost two straight and four of five.
Illinois now must win its season finale at home on Sunday against No. 15 Wisconsin to clinch a top-five seed in the Big Ten tournament and a first-round bye.
“The shark got one leg, now it’s got another,” Weber said. “It’s pulling us under. We’ll see if we can get away.”
Echoing his star player’s sentiments, Matta said the Buckeyes still have some unfinished business in the conference and NCAA tournaments.
“In coaching I’ve been blessed; this is 12 rings in 15 years,” Matta said. “I said the most important ring is the next one.”