INDIANAPOLIS – Ohio State and Michigan State met in a last-second thriller a week ago, with the Buckeyes prevailing to earn a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
Only one team will leave the court with a championship – and a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament – when the seventh-ranked Buckeyes face the eighth-ranked Spartans for the conference tournament crown Sunday in Indianapolis.
William Buford’s jumper with 1 second remaining gave Ohio State (27-6) a 72-70 victory last Sunday in East Lansing, forcing a three-way tie with Michigan State and Michigan atop the Big Ten standings.
It was the second failed attempt at winning an outright conference title for the Spartans (26-7), who also lost at Indiana on Feb. 28.
Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in Saturday’s 65-52 semifinal win over No. 14 Wisconsin, and he said Sunday’s game is a chance at redemption for top-seeded Michigan State.
“It’s just another opportunity for us. We had two chances to win the Big Ten outright, we didn’t do it,” Green said. “You can’t really make up for it, but it’s an opportunity to feel better about it if we get this conference tournament championship. It’s just another way to leave that footprint, leave your legacy.”
The Spartans and Buckeyes each are in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and there’s a chance the winner of the title game will end up earning that distinction.
Green, who had 12 points and nine rebounds in a 58-48 win at then-No. 3 Ohio State on Feb. 11, believes that’s exactly the way it should be.
“Well, you know, the way this conference has gone, in my opinion, it’s been the best conference in the nation all year,” Green said. “So you would probably think that there’s a possibility that you are playing for a No. 1 seed whoever wins this next game.”
Jared Sullinger is indifferent about the situation. He scored a game-high 24 points in the Buckeyes’ 77-55 win over No. 10 Michigan in Saturday’s other semifinal and seems more focused on helping third-seeded Ohio State win its third consecutive Big Ten tournament title.
“I really don’t care,” Sullinger said. “The NCAA – if we’re No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3, we just want to get there. We just want to play.”
Sophomore guard Aaron Craft, the conference’s defensive player of the year, shares that sentiment.
“We’re not worrying about (a No. 1 seed) right now,” Craft said. “We haven’t talked about (that) much either as a team or with the coaching staff.
“Right now, our focus is on Michigan State and what we have to do to be successful in that game.”
If the first two meetings are any indication, the third likely will be another tough battle.
Sullinger scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds but had a career-high 10 turnovers in the first matchup in Columbus, then he and Green both were plagued by foul trouble in the second contest.
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said both are special players and he’s looking forward to seeing them match up again.
“(Green) is one of my favorite players,” Matta said. “You’re looking at two, I think, future great NBA players going head to head.”
Sullinger has gotten plenty of help lately from Deshaun Thomas, who has averaged 22.0 points on 19-of-28 shooting in this tournament.
The Buckeyes have won two of three conference tournament meetings with the Spartans, winning the last matchup 82-70 in the 2009 semifinals. They’ve also won four of the last five meetings overall.
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