Sunday's college basketball: Illinois outlasts Ohio State in OT to win Big Ten tournament title
Indianapolis — No. 3 Illinois accomplished one major goal. The next one will be even more difficult.
As the Fighting Illini celebrated their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2005 with a 91-88 overtime victory over No. 9 Ohio State on Sunday, they quickly turned the focus to their No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the opportunity it presents.
“It was crazy, thinking about all the things we’ve accomplished and knowing how I came on my visit with coach (Brad) Underwood and I told him these are the things we can accomplish,” Ayo Dosunmu said after being named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. “So to get up there, cut that net down and see that No. 1 seed come up there, it’s just an unreal feeling.”
Especially given the oddities of this season.
Despite playing the regular season in front of minimal fans, the Illini (23-6) hoisted the trophy underneath the mid-court video board and watched the selection show with a throng of loud, orange-clad fans inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
It all seemed perfectly aligned for the deep and versatile Illini.
Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbello all scored 16 points. Cockburn and Dosunmu each had nine rebounds and they made the key plays in overtime. Cockburn sank the go-ahead free throws with 1:39 to go, Dosunmu followed that with a back-breaking 15-footer with 50 seconds left to make it 84-81 and Illinois finally sealed it at the free-throw line.
Illinois will start its next quest against 16th-seeded Drexel on Friday, having won seven straight overall and 14 out of 15 with six consecutive wins over top-10 foes.
Duane Washington Jr. had a career-high 32 points and Justice Sueing added 22 as the Buckeyes refused to go away despite the numerous times Illinois appeared to be in control.
Instead of withering in their fourth game in four days and being without forward Kyle Young for the second consecutive game, Ohio State (21-9) continually fought back. Coach Chris Holtmann expected that reaction from his team, which earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“They have that resiliency, they have it, this group has that,” he said. “If you’ve followed us, you know that.”
After missing their first nine shots and falling into an early 27-10 deficit, Ohio State got within 40-35 at the half and as close as 47-45 early in the second half. When Illinois answered with a 10-1 run to make it 57-46, the Buckeyes again rallied and even took a 67-65 lead with 5:35 left in regulation.
The Illini answered with seven straight but still couldn’t put it away. and Sueing’s three-point play with 23.6 seconds left tied the score at 77. Two big defensive plays forced overtime and then Cockburn and Dosunmu delivered, ending one chapter of this season and beginning another.
“It’s time to make history,” Dosunmu said. “It’s time to dig deeper, to focus in a little more, but winning this Big Ten championship is great.”
They didn’t win the title but the fifth-seeded Buckeyes overperformed expectations. They snapped a four-game losing streak by winning three games in three days, beat regular-season league champ Michigan and head into the postseason with lots of momentum.
The Illini are big, fast and strong – making them a legitimate national title contender. And after being shut out of the regular-season crown, they were on a mission to earn some hardware in Indy. Now that they have, they want to add a few more to the collection before leaving town.
Ohio State takes on No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, the Summit League champion, Friday in the South Region.
Illinois opens NCAA Tournament play Friday against 16th-seeded Drexel, the Colonial Athletic Association champ.
No. 6 Alabama 80, LSU 79: Herbert Jones drove for a go-ahead layup with 19.5 seconds remaining and Alabama won the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 1991, holding off a late flurry by LSU.
Coach Nate Oats and the Crimson Tide added to their regular-season title with a victory that should help Alabama at least match its highest seed in the NCAA Tournament – it was No. 2 in both 1987 and 2002.
Alabama, the reigning national champion in football, won its seventh tournament title overall, second in the SEC only to Kentucky’s 31. The Crimson Tide (24-6) hadn’t even reached this game since 2002.
Jones, both the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Jaden Shackelford led Alabama with 21 points.
LSU (18-9) hadn’t won this tournament since 1980, and this was the Tigers’ first time in the final since 1993. Trendon Watford finished with a career-high 30 points for LSU.
No. 7 Houston 91, Cincinnati 54: Quentin Grimes scored 21 points with five 3-pointers, Marcus Sasser had 16 points and Houston beat Cincinnati in the third consecutive American Athletic Conference Tournament championship game between the two teams.
The Cougars (24-3) were a lock for their 22nd NCAA Tournament berth even before leading the entire game to win their first conference tournament title since 2010, when they were still in Conference USA.
DeJon Jarreau, two days after a triple-double in the quarterfinal round, hit a 3-pointer for the first basket of the game to put to Cougars ahead to stay. He finished with 10 points.
Jeremiah Davenport had 11 points, all in the first half, and Mamoudou Diarra 10 for Cincinnati (12-11), which will have its NCAA Tournament streak end at nine appearances in a row.
Big Ten tournament
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Wednesday, March 10
►Game 1: 13-Minnesota 51, 12-Northwestern 46
►Game 2: 11-Penn State 72,14-Nebraska 66
Thursday, March 11
►Game 3: 8-Maryland 68, 9-Michigan State 57
►Game 4: 5-Ohio State 79, 13-Minnesota 75
►Game 5: 7-Rutgers 61, 10-Indiana 50
►Game 6: 6-Wisconsin 75, 11-Penn State 74
Friday, March 12
►Game 7: 1-Michigan 79, 8-Maryland 66
►Game 8: 5-Ohio State 87, 4-Purdue 78, OT
►Game 9: 2-Illinois 90, 7-Rutgers 68
►Game 10: 3-Iowa 62, 6-Wisconsin 57
Saturday, March 13
►Game 11: 5-Ohio State 68, 1-Michigan 67
►Game 12: 2-Illinois 82, 3-Iowa 71
Sunday, March 14
►Championship game: 2-Illinois 91, 5-Ohio State 88, OT