After running off two straight wins to reach the championship game, the Buckeyes had their four-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers and dropped a 65-61 decision at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Although OSU (22-10) would quickly have its spirits revived with the news that it would play in the NCAA Tournament later this week, the loss to the Boilermakers (25-9) cast a pall over what had otherwise been an impressive tournament run.
Seeded fifth in the conference, the Buckeyes knocked off No. 4 seed Wisconsin and top-seeded Michigan State on consecutive days and held a second-half lead against the Boilermakers before faltering down the stretch.
"We feel confident going into next week because I don't think many people gave us a chance to get into the championship game coming into this tournament," OSU sophomore guard Jon Diebler said. "We had confidence we could do it, but this game – Purdue played great. We didn't get the job done."
After a Diebler three-pointer put his team ahead 33-27 a little more than a minute and a half into the final stanza, the Boilermakers fought back and knotted the game at 40 when E'Twaun Moore buried a wide-open three-pointer from the left corner with 13:08 remaining.
That basket started an 11-1 Purdue run that put it ahead 48-41 with 10:46 remaining thanks almost exclusively to Moore's shooting.
The Buckeyes had not run into a hot shooter during their first two games of the tournament, but Moore nailed three three-pointers during the 11-1 run to help his team seize control.
"He's a great player," Diebler said of Moore, who finished with a team-high 17 points on 5-of-10 three-point shooting. "He got hot, was knocking down shots and I just don't think we had enough awareness where he was at."
The lead would stay between seven and nine points for a few minutes, but then the Buckeyes turned to their leading scorer in Evan Turner to rally them – and he nearly did it single-handedly.
After a jumper by Chris Kramer made it 54-45 with 7:36 remaining, the Buckeyes started calling Turner's number on every possession. Nine of the next 10 times OSU had the ball, Turner found himself driving the basket.
Twice, the Buckeyes were able to get within three points: first at 58-55 with 1:33 remaining and again at 61-58 with 16.7 seconds remaining.
During those 10 possessions, Turner scored 12 of OSU's 13 points. The other point came courtesy of sophomore center Dallas Lauderdale, who was fouled trying to convert a nice post feed from Turner that came from the top of the circle.
"He took us on his back," junior guard P.J. Hill said. "He created for everybody and when there was nothing left he just went to the basket. Kobe (Bryant) says you've got to muscle shots through when you're the best player, so that's what he did. He carried us, but we just couldn't get over that hump."
Turner finished with a game-high 22 points on 9 of 20 shooting. The Buckeyes also got 15 points from sophomore Jon Diebler and freshman William Buford. The freshman had 10 of OSU's first 16 points, helping shoulder the scoring load early yet again.
"That's just me," he said. "That's what I do."
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Buckeyes. It marked their fifth appearance in the conference title game and dropped their record in the title game to 2-3.
Both teams were playing their third game in as many days, but the fatigue factor appeared to affect the Buckeyes the most. Buford had to be taken out at one point because he was dizzy, head coach Thad Matta said, and a number of players referenced fatigue being an issue in the second half.
That was reflected in the final stats. Purdue was just 9 for 32 (28.1 percent) in the first half, but went 13 for 32 (40.6 percent) in the final 20 minutes. The Boilermakers shot 34.4 percent overall compared to 43.1 percent (22 for 51) for the Buckeyes but got off 13 more shots, a fact aided by a 44-to-33 rebounding advantage.
That final statistic included an 18 to 5 advantage on the offensive glass. No Buckeye had more than one offensive rebound.
"The rebounding got us," Diebler said. "We didn't come out with the intensity we needed to, which we did in the last two games coming into this game. This game, it just wasn't there coming out of the gate and they took advantage of that."
Still, the fact that the Buckeyes had reeled off two impressive wins in as many days before falling to the Boilermakers left head coach Thad Matta pleased with where his team is.
"I think that this team has gotten a lot better in three days," he said. "To see the progress that we've made, to see the fight, (it's good)."
Although the Boilermakers got off three shot attempts in the final 10 seconds of the first half, none of them fell and the Buckeyes held a 30-25 lead at intermission. Leading the way was Buford, whose 10 first-half points were among the first 16 points scored by the Buckeyes.
In addition to Moore, Purdue got 16 points from JaJuan Johnson.