Indianapolis, Ind. – The made-for-television Big Ten Tournament final wasn't to be.
Short of a Bob Knight vs. Indiana encounter, CBS couldn't ask for much more than an Indiana vs. Iowa Big Ten Championship game final. What better prelude could there be to the network's NCAA tournament selection show than outgoing IU Coach Mike Davis going up against Iowa and its coach Steve Alford, a strongly-rumored candidate to replace Davis on the Hoosier sidelines next fall?
That television drama, though, wasn't to be. When Rod Wilmont's potential game-winning eight-footer in the lane came up short and the Conseco Fieldhouse clock expired, top-seeded Ohio State (25-4) had escaped with a 52-51 win over Indiana (18-11) to earn a spot in the Big Ten Tournament championship game against Iowa.
It was heartbreaking way for Indiana's quest for a Big Ten championship to end, and for a special afternoon for Wilmont to conclude. Wilmont had single-handedly shook the Hoosiers out of a first-half funk with eight straight points in a one-minute span to erase a quick 8-0 Buckeye lead. Then, with 1:51 remaining in the second half, he drove past Ron Lewis for a baseline layup that gave Indiana its first lead since the opening half, 51-50.
"Rod played great today," senior Marshall Strickland said. "He made a lot of plays for us."
But his 16-point, five-rebound afternoon ended in devastating fashion in the closing seconds. After an IU defensive breakdown left OSU's Matt Sylvester wide open for the go-ahead layup with :37.4 remaining, Indiana had a pair of chances to pull out the win.
With eight seconds remaining, Marco Killingsworth missed a 5-foot hook over Terence Dials, and the ball was gathered by Wilmont near the free-throw line. Wilmont went up with the clock winding down, but his uncontested eight-foot leaner deflected harmlessly off the front rim.
"I think I tried to rush it too fast because I didn't know how much time was on the clock," Wilmont said. "I tried to get it off in time, and I just missed it.
"I thought it was going in, but it's one of those things, it bounced off the rim."
Wilmont wasn't the only one who thought it was going to drop.
"The way he was shooting I was surprised it didn't go in," said OSU center Terence Dials, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds. "We were lucky that he missed a short bunny."
After the miss Wilmont slumped to the floor in tears. He was eventually helped to his feet by IU Assistant Coach Sidney Green and was then comforted by Green along with a pair of Buckeye guards he had matched up with all afternoon, Je'Kel Foster and J.J. Sullinger.
"Rod is an emotional young man," IU Coach Mike Davis said. "He plays with his heart. There's no reason for him to feel bad for missing a shot. That's part of the game. You're going to make some and you're going to miss some. He played a great game for us."
Wilmont wasn't the only one to miss a potential game-winner. After Indiana called a timeout with :25.9 remaining, Davis diagrammed a play to get the ball to Killingsworth on the block. But Killingsworth's attempt missed, setting up Wilmont's last-ditch effort.
"I thought Marco was going to make it because he got it into his left hand and I have seen him make that shot a thousand times," Marshall Strickland said. "When it rimmed up and Wilmont came over, we had another wide open look.
"You can't ask for a better opportunity than that."
While it was a tough moment for Wilmont, is capped a rough afternoon for Killingsworth. IU's leading scorer finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but was just 5-of-18 from the floor.
"He's their best player, and you want your best player taking the last shot," said Killingsworth's nemesis, Terence Dials.
Indiana had gotten itself into position for the closing minutes by overcoming a pair of nine-point deficits in the second half.
After Dials put OSU up 47-38 with 8:34 left, Indiana scored nine straight to tie the game at 47. Wilmont started the IU rally by scoring on a driving layup and then added a pair of free throws to cut the lead to five. Earl Calloway then cut to the basket and Killingsworth found him for a wide open layup to cut the lead to three, and then Calloway capped the rally with an acrobatic conventional 3-point play. Calloway drove past Matt Sylvester and finished a left-handed lay-up while being fouled, and the subsequent free throw knotted the game with 3:47 left.
Saturday's Big Ten Tournament semifinal was supposed to be all about the Killingsworth-Dials battle, but instead it was others who emerged. While Dials and Killingsworth scored a relatively pedestrian 13 and 10 points, respectively, OSU got a big effort from J.J. Sullinger and IU had big performances from Wilmont and Earl Calloway.
Sullinger, who played the final 13 minutes of the game with a cut over his left eye courtesy of a Earl Calloway elbow, finished with a game-high 19 points and 13 rebounds. He was especially big early in the second half when he scored OSU's first 13 points of the period to help Ohio State turn a 26-25 halftime deficit into a 38-30 lead.
He also was 3-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc, providing some perimeter punch for a team that didn't get its usual contributions from guards Jamar Butler and Je'Kel Foster. The Buckeyes' starting backcourt duo combined to go just 1-of-17 from the floor, including an 0-of-11 effort from Foster.
While Wilmont paced Indiana with 16 points and Marshall Strickland added 12, Calloway contributed seven points, eight rebounds and six assists while committing only one turnover in 35 minutes.
Their play helped IU nearly overcome Killingsworth's struggles and the late absence of Robert Vaden. Vaden, who scored just six points, left the game with an apparent left ankle sprain at the 3:06 mark and didn't return. Davis said afterwards the injury was "day to day," and he should return in time for the NCAA Tournament.
"It was a great game today," Strickland said. "We gave it everything we had."
Killingsworth 5-18 0-2 10, Ratliff 0-1 0-0 0, Strickland 5-12 0-0 12, Vaden 2-8 1-1 6, Calloway 3-9 1-1 7, Wilmont 6-13 2-4 16, Suhr 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 0-1 0-0 0, Kline 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-63 4-8 51.
OHIO STATE 52
Sullinger 7-16 2-2 19, Butler 1-6 3-4 6, Foster 0-11 2-2 2, Dials 6-12 1-2 13, Sylvester 2-4 0-0 4, Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Lewis 3-8 1-2 8. Totals 19-58 9-12 52.
Halftime Score: Indiana 26, Ohio State 25. 3-Pointers: Indiana 5-22 (Killingsworth 0-1, Ratliff 0-1, Strickland 2-8, Vaden 1-4, Calloway 0-1, Wilmont 2-6, Allen 0-1), Ohio State 5-27 (Sullinger 3-7, Butler 1-5, Foster 0-9, Sylvester 0-2, Harris 0-1, Lewis 1-3). Rebounds: Indiana 42 (Killingsworth 10), Ohio State 43 (Sullinger 13). Assists: Indiana 11 (Calloway 6), Ohio State 13 (Butler 5). Turnovers: Indiana 10 (Killingsworth 4), Ohio State 11 (Butler 2, Foster 2, Dials 2, Sylvester 2, Lewis 2). Officials: Ted Hillary, Mike Sanzere, Paul Janssen. Attendance: 18.730.
Shot Won't Drop As Hoosiers Fall
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