INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Jared Sullinger had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 1 Ohio State boosted its bid for the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed with a 68-61 victory over rival Michigan in the Big Ten semifinals Saturday.
The regular-season league champs and defending tournament champs will play in a record-tying third straight championship game Sunday against either sixth-seeded Penn State or seventh-seeded Michigan State. Illinois also played in three consecutive title games from 2003-05.
Jon Diebler scored 16 points and William Buford had 14 for the Buckeyes (31-2). They have won six straight games overall and all three matchups this season with Michigan (20-13).
The Wolverines were led by Darius Morris with 16 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. with 15.
Michigan got as close as 47-45 with 9:51 left, but the Buckeyes answered with 16 straight points and held off a late charge that got the Wolverines within four in the final minute.
A win Sunday would make Ohio State the first Big Ten team to defend its tourney title since Michigan State in 2000.
Since losing two of three in mid-February, the Buckeyes have reeled off six straight wins. And they’ve dominated the recent series with the Wolverines, just like in football.
The difference Saturday was simple: Balance, experience and poise.
It looked as though Ohio State had put the game away when Buford hit a 15-footer to end an 11-0 run that gave Ohio State a 38-27 lead early in the second half.
But Morris, just like he did in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Illinois, rallied the Wolverines. They used an 8-2 run to get within 47-45.
Ohio State answered quickly. Sullinger opened the decisive spurt with a 5-foot jumper and a free throw, and by the time it ended, the Buckeyes had scored 16 straight points to make it 63-45.
Game over, right?
The Wolverines scored 13 straight points in the closing minutes, getting as close as 65-61 with 21.4 seconds to go. But Ohio State made three of its last four free throws to finally seal it.