INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State does not do things the easy way.
The defending Big Ten tournament champions survived another grinder on Thursday, escaping upset-minded Purdue for a 63-61 first-round tournament victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Boilermakers guard Terone Johnson’s bid for a game-winning 3-pointer bounced off the rim as time expired and the No. 24 Buckeyes secured a second-round date with Nebraska on Friday.
“It’s good to see us win one of these ugly games. We’ve been in this position, couldn’t finish them out,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Every year for 10 years, this (first tournament) game has just been — it’s been tough.”
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes (24-8) struggled to put away a pesky Purdue team that trailed by just one point at 61-60 after center A.J. Hammons’ layup with 18 seconds to play.
But free throws by guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. 12 seconds apart gave the Buckeyes what proved to be the winning points.
Forward LaQuinton Ross collected 19 points and 15 rebounds and Craft added 16 points for defending Big Ten tournament champion Ohio State.
Hammons led a balanced attack with 15 points, guard Ronnie Johnson had 12 while Terone Johnson and guard Kendall Stephens each added 10 for No. 12 seed Purdue (15-18).
Purdue trailed 63-60 before Ronnie Johnson hit a free throw with two seconds showing, missed the second and the Boilermakers claimed possession as the ball went out of bounds off Ohio State. A lengthy official review confirmed the call, allowing the Boilermakers one more shot.
The final try was an easy call for Purdue coach Matt Painter.
“The worst thing you can do in that situation is not get a shot,” he said. “We were going to set a simple screen with them. If they wanted to switch, then we were going to go over the top. That was our second option. But if they weren’t, we were going to take our rhythm three to win the game.”
It was a wild end to a game that featured 10 ties and 15 lead changes.
Ohio State, which beat Wisconsin 50-43 in the 2013 Big Ten title game in Chicago, faces No. 4 seed Nebraska in a second-round matchup at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET Friday.
“There definitely were times we’ve played a little tentative down the stretch,” Craft said. “(But) it doesn’t matter how ugly the game is at this point, it’s all about trying to find a way to keep playing, and luckily we’re able to do that again.”
The Boilermakers and Buckeyes were locked in a nip-and-tuck game through much of the first half with six ties and five lead changes.
Ohio State briefly broke away on Smith’s 3-pointer with 4:11 left followed by forward Sam Thompson’s jumper 32 seconds later that gave the Buckeyes their largest lead of the game at 26-19.
Purdue pushed back as guard Kendall Stephens’ jumper and forward Basil Smotherman’s steal and dunk with 50 seconds remaining cut the Ohio State lead to one at 28-27.
A Ross baseline jumper with five seconds left gave the Buckeyes a 30-27 halftime advantage.
Purdue jumped back ahead at 35-34 on Terone Johnson’s 3-pointer with 16:59 left in the game and he added a free throw 34 seconds later for a short-lived two-point Boilermakers lead.
Neither team took command even after Ohio State broke the 10th and last tie — a 54-54 deadlock with 6:06 to play. The Buckeyes went on a 5-0 run for a 59-54 lead, their largest down the stretch before Purdue scrambled back.
Neither team shot particularly well from the field. Purdue was 24-of-58 (41.4 percent) and Ohio State was 23-of-643 (35.9 percent). The Buckeyes had a 43-39 rebounding edge and the Boilermakers committed 17 turnovers.
“Tonight we had the turnovers, (but) they weren’t converting them into points,” Painter said. “They only had six points off of 17 turnovers. … I really thought if we would have had 17 turnovers we would not be in the game.”
NOTES: Ohio State entered the Big Ten tournament as top defensive team, allowing just 59.1 points per game, an average four points fewer than No. 2 Illinois (62.8 points). … The Buckeyes snapped a two-game losing streak with
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