Illinois and Ohio State just ended the Big Ten Tournament in the only way it deserved. An instant classic, overtime showcase with incredible execution from both teams in clutch moments.
But Ohio State's fabulous run through the Big Ten Tournament fell three points short. The Fighting Illini claimed victory 91-88 in overtime at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2005 and for just the third time in school history. Ohio State finished as Big Ten Tournament runner-up for the fifth time.
It's not fair to classify Ohio State's run through the Big Ten Tournament as a Cinderella-type story, because they've had a propensity throughout the year to beat terrific teams and battle all the way to the end of games.
But the No. 5-seeded Buckeyes definitely had some tournament-darling characteristics. Winning three games in three days leading up to the title game, all of which truly went down to the last possession.
And after struggling to close out wins each of the first three days, while leading for all but eight minutes of the 125 total minutes in those three games, the Buckeyes flipped the script and instead fought back from a massive early deficit to force overtime.
Unfortunately, they just ran out of time - fighting to the bitter end, even hitting a shot as time expired to shrink the final deficit.
Ohio State appeared to be digging itself a hole it might not be able to climb out of: through nearly 12 minutes of action, the Scarlet and Gray hit just 1-of-16 shots from the floor and trailed by as many as 17 points (27-10).
But once Duane Washington Jr. hit a layup with 8:26 to play, everything changed. In fact, they hit 25 of their next 40 shots throughout the game.
Including that Washington basket, the Buckeyes would connect on 10-of-12 to close the half and cut the deficit down to just five points. Washington close the half with 15 points on 6-of-10 after starting with four straight misses.
A huge reason for their staying in the game when things were so frustrating in the first half? OSU got to the free throw line 16 times, connecting on 11. While that is below their season-average from the stripe, it certainly helped bridge the gap.
Surprisingly, considering the size advantage Kofi Cockburn and Illinois had against the Buckeyes, hardly any points for the Illini came in the paint. 10 of their first 17 shots from the field have come from mid-or-long range. That includes seven 3-pointers from four different players. It stayed that way throughout the game as the Illini scored less than one-third of their total points inside the key.
Cockburn earned his third foul right after the first media timeout of the second half and was taken off the floor. Subsequently, the Buckeyes pulled within two points at 45-43 when E.J. Liddell hit a jumper with 15:22 to play.
But the Buckeyes couldn't get any closer for the time being.
Georgi Bezhanishvili ignited the Illini run, spearheading a 14-3 run. Especially with Cockburn on the bench and with Ayo Dosunmu not getting open looks, the Rustavi, Georgia native gave the Illini a boost. With the crowd roaring, Andre Curbelo hit a high floater on the baseline to cap the run and make the score 57-46 with 11:58 to play.
But Bezhanishvili wasn't immune to foul trouble either, and he picked up his fourth with 10:26 to play.
Justice Sueing, Washington Jr. and C.J. Walker wouldn't let the game slip away. They scored eight points in a 2-minute stretch to pull it back to a 59-57 score.
Sueing hit a pair of free throws with 6:40 to play to cut the deficit to 63-62. Then after two free throws for Illinois, Washington Jr. buried a 3-ball to tie the game at 65-65 ... the first tie score since the game was 2-2.
Walker hit a fadeaway the next possession. 17-point deficit, 1-for-16 start completely erased. With 5:35 to play, Ohio State finally had it's first lead, 67-65.
The Illini responded with seven unanswered points on three straight possessions, capped by a Trent Frazier 3-ball with 3:31 left.
Down by six, Washington nailed a contested 3-ball in front of his own bench to tie his career-high 30 points and bring the score to 75-72.
After forcing a turnover, Liddell dunked with a minute to go to cut it to a 1-point game with 57 seconds to play. But Da'Monte Williams answered with a floater in the key to increase the lead back to three.
Out of the ensuing timeout, Justice Sueing was fouled while making a layup. His foul shot tied the game at 77-77, but gave Illinois the ball back with the shot clock off and a chance to try and win it. Dosunmu missed a 3-ball to win it, and while Cockburn grabbed the rebound, Liddell blocked the put-back to force overtime.
In the extra session, Washington gave the Buckeyes an 81-80 lead half way through on a layup. Cockburn hit two foul shots to give Illinois the lead back. Liddell turned it over on the next possession, when Andre Curbelo hit a jumper from the right elbow to extend Illinois' lead to 84-81.
A second straight turnover and subsequent foul put Curbelo at the line, where he hit both shots to make it 86-81.
Duane Washington tried a desperation 3-pointer that fell short, Kofi Cockburn hit a free throw that seemingly iced the game, but after missing the second, Seth Towns hit a trey - his first basket of the game - and cut it to 87-84 with 15.8 to play.
Talk about fighting until the very, very end.
A series of free throws extended the final margin, and Walker hit a 3-pointer as time expired, but the Buckeyes lost 91-88 in one of the most memorable Big Ten Championship games ever played.
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