CHICAGO (AP) -- Two weeks ago, Ohio State was barely above .500,
and the NCAA Tournament was far from the Buckeyes' minds.
Now they're on a roll, two victories away from an improbable
spot in the field.
Led by a gritty defense and Sean Connolly's strong shooting, Ohio State stunned No. 18 Wisconsin 58-50 Friday in the Big Ten
tournament. The eighth-seeded Buckeyes (16-13), winners of three of
their past four games, face fifth-seeded Michigan State in
the semifinals Saturday.
''Winning the tournament, the main thing is just about desire,''
said Brent Darby, who made four free throws in the final 39 seconds
to seal the victory. ''So we just want to take each game one by one
and not look past anybody.
''We can't afford to do that, anyway.''
Connolly finished with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including
5-for-7 from 3-point range. Darby had 16 points, six assists and
just one turnover.
Ohio State shot 46 percent from the floor while holding
Wisconsin to 34 percent. The Badgers also had 11 turnovers,
including two very costly ones in the final 45 seconds.
With the defeat, the Badgers (22-7) became the third top seed -- and the second from the state of Wisconsin -- to fall in the opening
game of a conference tournament. Arizona, the No. 1 team in the
country, was upset by UCLA in the Pac-10, while Marquette was
embarrassed by UAB in the Conference USA tournament.
''It's very difficult to get things done when you're shooting a
percentage like that,'' Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. ''Teams that
stay alive right now are the teams that can knock some shots down.
''The amazing thing is, it was a one- or two-possession game and
we weren't making shots.''
Wisconsin hadn't played in eight days but it started well,
making five 3-pointers to open the game. But Ohio State abandoned
its zone defense and went to man-to-man, and the Badgers couldn't
get past it.
They finally found a way to get inside at the start of the
second half, opening with an 11-1 run to take a 36-31 lead. Ohio
State coach Jim O'Brien called a timeout and chastised his team.
''I got on them pretty good,'' O'Brien said, laughing. ''I
thought we came out lethargic in the second half, and I just really
challenged them. We just were not guarding. We just needed to get
focused again and pick it up like we finished the first half.''
That's just what the Buckeyes did. They held Wisconsin scoreless
for the next 4½ minutes while they went on a 9-0 run to take the
lead for good.
''Coach did a great job of getting us back into the game,''
Darby said. ''He just basically let us know, if we're not going to
step up, we're going to lose this game. Those weren't his exact
words, but that was the message that we got.''
Wisconsin had a chance to make it interesting after Connolly's
jumper gave Ohio State a 51-45 lead with 2:53 to play. But the
Badgers turned the ball over and then, on their next possession,
missed a 3-pointer.
Harris snagged the rebound and kicked it out to Freddie Owens,
who hit a 3 to pull Wisconsin to 51-48 with 1½ minutes left.
Zach Williams missed a layup in heavy traffic at the other end,
knocking over Penney in the process. Wisconsin wanted a foul, but
Velimir Radinovich grabbed the ball and scored on the layup to give
Ohio State a 53-48 lead.
Harris drew a quick foul and made both shots, cutting Ohio
State's lead to 53-50 with 55 seconds left. Connolly then missed
the front end of a one-and-one and the Badgers got the rebound.
But Harris lost control of the ball under the basket, and the
Badgers were forced to foul. Darby made both, and then the Badgers
committed yet another turnover, this one when Owens tossed the ball
Ohio State's inbounds pass hit the basket and landed in
Wisconsin guard Clayton Hanson's hands, but he missed a long
3-pointer. The Badgers fouled Darby again, and he made both shots.
''We were in the game at the end,'' Penney said. ''We just
didn't do the job.''