December 23, 2013 at 1:00 am

Rod Beard

Big Ten report: Ohio State stays perfect with great escape

Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson, center, loses his dribble as he faces a double-team by Ohio State's Shannon Scott, left, and LaQuinton Ross, right, late in the second half Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Jason DeCrow / Associated Press)

Somehow, even with the No. 3 national ranking, Ohio State has managed to fly under the radar this season. With Michigan State and Wisconsin joining the Buckeyes in the top five, they’ve helped carry the Big Ten flag as the best league in the land.

But after Saturday’s Houdini-like escape from an eight-point deficit in the final minute against Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden, Ohio State (12-0) is right back in the thick of things to make a run through the conference season and possibly deeper into the postseason.

The Buckeyes trailed, 58-50, but LaQuinton Ross started the rally with a basket with 48 seconds remaining. Shannon Scott got a steal and dished to Lenzelle Smith Jr. for a layup, cutting the deficit to four. Scott got another steal and was fouled, converting both free throws.

Notre Dame made two free throws but fouled Smith on a 3-pointer. He made all three, cutting the deficit to 60-59. The Irish missed the front end of a one-and-one situation and Smith got another basket off a nifty pass from Aaron Craft to take the lead with 16 seconds remaining.

From there, Ohio State made free throws down the stretch to help seal the improbable victory.

“I don’t really know what happened. It was a big blur,” Craft said. “We never stopped; we never gave up. Guys were running around getting tips and guys made big free throws.”

Smith scored seven of his nine points in the final 33 seconds and Ross finished with 16 points. The Buckeyes, though, have played just two games away from the friendly confines of Value City Arena. They’ll get their first big test in a showdown at Michigan State on Jan. 7, just before a matchup with Iowa on Jan. 12.

Big Saturday

The Big Ten made a statement after rallying to keep the Commissioners Cup in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but maybe opened a few more eyes with its nonconference wins Saturday.

In addition to Ohio State’s comeback win, Illinois topped No. 23 Missouri, Michigan beat Stanford and Michigan State dropped Texas.

Illinois (10-2) capped the 65-64 win in the “Braggin’ Rights” game at St. Louis with Tracy Abrams’ two free throws with 4.6 seconds left. It was the Illini’s first win in the rivalry in the last five years.

It’s a resume-building game for Illinois, which lost to No. 13 Oregon last week and to Georgia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. After a matchup with Illinois-Chicago on Saturday, the Illini will get their first big test at home against Indiana on Dec. 31.

Junior Rayvonte Rice, a transfer from Drake, is the leading scorer, at 17.4 points. Rice forms a strong perimeter nucleus with Abrams (12.4 points) and Joseph Bertrand (10.6). The Illini have less experience in the frontcourt, which will be tested in conference play.

Pitino a plus

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, in his first season, has the Gophers off to a 10-2 start. He’s already raising expectations but also is shaking things up quickly. He’s continuing the name recognition that Tubby Smith brought to Minneapolis, but adding to it with the announcement of a matchup with his legendary father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

The father-son matchup will take place on Nov. 14, 2014 in the opener of the 2014-15 season in the Armed Forces Classic at the U.S. Coast Guard's Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico.

It’s the second meeting as coaches between the Pitinos.

Welcome back

Penn State is adjusting nicely to having all-conference guard Tim Frazier back in the lineup after coming off a season-ending injury last year.

Frazier is averaging 18.2 points and D.J. Newbill is at 18.9 — the top two scorers individually in the Big Ten. They’re helping the Nittany Lions light up the scoreboard and rank fourth in the league in scoring.

The last pair of teammates to finish ranked 1-2 in scoring in the conference was Indiana’s Eric Gordon (20.9 points) and D.J. White (17.4 points) in 2007-08.

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