CHICAGO – Ohio State is the champion of the Big Ten tournament – again.
DeShaun Thomas scored 17 points, and the 10th-ranked Buckeyes used their stout defense to beat No. 22 Wisconsin, 50-43, for their conference-best fifth tournament title Sunday at the United Center.
Thomas was 6 for 19 from the field, but made some big free throws down the stretch as Ohio State won the championship for the third time in the last four years. Aaron Craft had nine points and six rebounds, and LaQuinton Ross delivered a couple of huge plays for the Buckeyes (26-7).
Travon Jackson scored 10 points for the Badgers (23-11), who shot 38.3 percent from the field. None of his teammates reached double figures, with Sam Dekker next up at eight points.
Wisconsin and Ohio State were close for most of the second half, but the Buckeyes seized on a cold spell by the Badgers to move in front down the stretch.
After Dekker scored on a reverse layup with 7:01 remaining, Wisconsin went scoreless for the next 4½ minutes while Ross stepped up for Ohio State. He had a strong offensive rebound and putback, then converted a layup to make it 47-41 with 2:39 to go.
Jackson made two free throws to stop the scoring drought for the Badgers, who forced a shot clock violation on the other end. But Ben Brust missed a long 3-pointer and Thomas went 3 for 4 at the line in the final minute.
Dekker's basket was Wisconsin's last field goal of the game.
Thomas had seven rebounds as the Buckeyes enjoyed a 39-28 advantage on the glass.
Wisconsin advanced to the final with a pair of impressive victories over No. 6 Michigan and third-ranked Indiana, while the Buckeyes beat Nebraska handily and edged No. 8 Michigan State to reach the title game for the fifth consecutive season.
Each team is likely headed for a top-five seed when the field for the NCAA tournament is revealed later Sunday.
Sam Thompson added eight points for the Buckeyes, who had 13 second-chance points, compared to four for Wisconsin.
While the lithe Thompson is a potent scorer, the Badgers took advantage of his lack of size at times when they had the ball. The 6-foot-7, 190-pound Thompson started at forward for the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin's senior starting front court of Berggren, Evans and Bruesewitz all had at least 18 pounds on the sophomore.
The Badgers used the advantage to get high-percentage shots inside or force a double team that left one of their 3-point shooters open. It was particularly noticeable during a 14-0 first-half run that included 3s from Bruesewitz and Frank Kaminsky and a slick reverse layup by Evans.
But Matta also did a nice bit of coaching for the Buckeyes. After Thomas got off to a slow start, Matta pulled the junior aside for a quick chat during a timeout late in the first half and the forward responded with a nice jumper that trimmed Wisconsin's lead to 24-23 at halftime.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap