CHICAGO -- Indiana and Ohio State both entered Thursday’s Big Ten Tournament desperate for a win to advance and enhance their NCAA Tournament resumes.
In fact, it may have been an NCAA elimination game -- and both teams played like it.
Ohio State jumped out to a 20-point lead and held off a late Hoosier run for a 79-75 victory and a date in Friday’s Big Ten quarterfinals. Indiana coach Archie Miler believes that’s enough for the Buckeyes to go to the “Big Dance,” that begins next Tuesday.
“They should definitely be in the tournament,” Miller said.
After a strong start to the season, the Buckeyes struggled down the stretch. They lost five of their last seven in the regular season to land squarely on the bubble, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. As of Thursday morning, Lunardi had Ohio State as the last team in the tourney (and Indiana the first out).
“They start bubble talk, I think, in November,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann joked. “It’s everywhere this time of year. As previous much as possible, we’ve focused in on trying to play more possessions of quality basketball than what we did at the time.”
The Buckeyes (19-13) advanced to face Big Ten co-champion Michigan State (25-6) on Friday at 12:30 p.m. in the first quarterfinal. The sixth-ranked Spartans have won six of their last seven games entering Friday’s contest.
“They’re terrific. They’re an elite team, are capable of getting to a Final Four or winning a national championship,” Holtmann said. “We’ll need to play exceptional basketball for 40 minutes, but we’re excited about the opportunity.”
The Buckeyes dropped two games against Michigan State this season. The Spartans beat Ohio State 86-77 on Jan. 5 in Columbus and 62-44 on Feb. 17 in East Lansing.
“You always want to play a team that’s beat you twice,” Ohio State senior Keyshawn Woods said. “It’s big game. It’s an important game.”
The status of Michigan State big man Nick Ward isn’t known. He’s missed the Spartans’ last five games with a hand injury, but coach Tom Izzo expects him to play at some point in the Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State center Kaleb Wesson played Thursday after missing three games due to a suspension. Wesson battered the Hoosiers with 17 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. He’ll likely line up against Ward, if he’s available for the Spartans.
“Kaleb draws a lot of attention,” Woods said. “Then also on the defensive end, he’s a great presence, too, protecting the rim. And he’s a great talker and communicator. So it was great to have Kaleb back on the floor with us.”
GOPHERS SET UP RUBBER MATCH WITH PURDUE
Minnesota avoided a Penn State upset bid by outscoring the Nittany Lions 10-2 in the final 4:35 of regulation and 16-11 in overtime.
With the 77-72 victory, the Gophers won their 20th game of the season and advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals where they will face 13th-ranked Purdue (23-8) for the third time this season. Both teams won at home head-to-head in the regular season with Minnesota defeating the Boilermakers 73-69 just 10 days ago. The triumph kept co-Big Ten champion Purdue from winning the league title outright.
“You know we want to win it all, so we’re just taking it one game at a time,” Minnesota’s Amir Coffey said.
Minnesota (20-12) and Penn State were tied at 66-66 in overtime before Coffey scored six consecutive points, including the go-ahead layup with 53 seconds left in the extra session.
“I told the guys we were pretty much acting like we were down 20 when we were only down four or six because we needed more energy and we needed more life,” said Minnesota senior Jordan Murphy, who contributed 15 points and 14 rebounds to the triumph.
Coffey went 10-of-11 at the foul line to lead the Gophers, who were 24-of-31 from stripe in the victory, with 22 points and five assists.
“Coffey made some big plays down the stretch, made a big 3 in overtime, and we were reeling there just a bit,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said.
Lamar Stevens, who was ejected with 33 seconds left for leaving the bench during an on-court confrontation, had a big night for the 14-18 Lions. He finished with 24 points, four rebounds and four assists.
HUSKERS WIN AGAIN
Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. had his second straight big night and helped the Cornhuskers knock off 21st-ranked Maryland, 69-61.
Palmer, who had 34 points in Wednesday’s win over Rutgers, went 8-of-13 from the floor, 3-of-6 from beyond the 3-point stripe and 5-of-8 at the foul line for 24 points in Thursday’s victory.
“Our belief factor was strong,” Palmer said. “We’re always going to come into a game thinking we’re going to win. We never go into a game thinking we’re going to lose. We just went out there and proved it.”
Palmer has played all 80 minutes in Nebraska’s first two tourney games. Through two games, he has 58 points on 17-of-32 shooting.
The Huskers (17-15) will face No. 19 Wisconsin (22-9) in Friday’s second quarterfinal.
“We’ve got another good team on our hands, but we can do it,” Nebraska guard Glynn Watson Jr. said.
Anthony Cowan scored 18 points to lead Maryland (22-10), which is now 2-5 all-time in Big Ten Tournament games.