INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State men’s basketball began defense of its back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles in convincing fashion on Friday.
Senior guard William Buford peppered in some points late in the second half to help create breathing room for No. 3-seed OSU in an 88-71 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win against No. 6-seed Purdue. Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger guided the Buckeyes throughout the game as he dumped 30 points on the Boilermakers while also adding 12 rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
With the win against Purdue (21-12, 10-9 Big Ten), the Buckeyes (26-6, 14-5 Big Ten) advance to play No. 2-seed Michigan Saturday in a Tournament semifinal game.
Michigan began its run the Big Ten Tournament with a 73-69, overtime win against No. 10-seed Minnesota on Saturday.
OSU shot out to a lead early in the final game of tournament action on Friday as Purdue struggled to contain Sullinger, who scored eight of the Buckeyes’ 13 points during a 13-3 run to start the game.
Sullinger said offensive execution was something the team worked on in practice ahead of the tournament.
“Coming into this tournament, I thought that was the biggest key for this basketball team,” Sullinger said. “This basketball team found me when I was open and I was blessed enough to make the shots.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said he thought Sullinger had a “good way about him” with regard to the players’ activity in the low post.
“It was good to see that we were able to move the way we wanted to move effectively,” Matta said.
Purdue kept it close despite Sullinger’s offensive surge, narrowing its deficit to 19-18 by the midway point of the first half.
With 5:32 to play, sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., scored back-to-back layups and was fouled on the second attempt. The ensuing free throw extended the Buckeyes’ advantage to 31-24.
Then came another Purdue comeback minutes later.
Purdue junior forward D.J. Byrd, voted the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year by the media, hit a 3-pointer to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 31-30.
Sullinger’s output slowed after falling to the court early in the half, but the Buckeyes’ big man managed to contribute.
A Sullinger put-back with just more than two minutes remaining in the opening stanza put OSU up, 37-33. Later, Sullinger uncorked a 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds to play and put his team up 40-36.
OSU took that four-point lead into the intermission after shooting 60 percent in the opening 20 minutes of play. Purdue shot 40 percent from the field while also connecting on 46 percent of its 3-point shots.
The Buckeyes extended their advantage to five points at 46-41 with 16:22 to play in the second half with Purdue coach Matt Painter was whistled for a technical foul. Sullinger made the two free-throws for OSU after Painter’s foul and hit a 10-foot jump on the next possession to push his team back in front by nine.
Purdue wouldn’t go quietly, though, and a layup by Boilermakers’ sophomore guard Terone Johnson brought the Boilermakers to within three points with 12:06 to play in the game.
Buford, who finished the game 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, helped created a little breathing room for his team.
Many of the 18,484 fans in attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis came to their feet when a foul was called after a Buford layup with 5:23 to play. Buford hit the ensuing free-throw and added a step-back, 3-pointer on the next possession.
Buford’s buckets were part of an 18-5 run by OSU that pushed its lead to a game-high 18 points at 79-61.
A Sullinger layup with 2:05 remaining made the score 84-66, and OSU began to empty its bench.
Matta said his team was able to figure some things out in the second half, and that allowed it to pull away toward the end of regulation.
“I thought our offense, execution-wise, was where it needed to be,” Matta said.
Smith Jr., said that, unlike in regular season games, OSU pulled away despite several offensive charges by its opponent.
“Earlier times we would play a team and, for some strange reason, we thought that when we got a good lead that they would go away and they would kind of stop playing,” Smith Jr., said. “And we realized that teams are not going to stop. They aren’t gonna quit. We shouldn’t quit. Every time they focus harder… we’ve got to come back and respond.”
OSU’s semifinal game against No. 3-seed Michigan will begin 25 minutes after the conclusion of No. 1-seed Michigan State versus No. 4-seed Wisconsin, which tips at 1:40 p.m.