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March 1, 2011

Diebler leads Bucks to Big Ten crown

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State came into Tuesday night's game hoping a win over visiting No. 1 Ohio State would save its season.

Instead, the top-ranked Buckeyes left the Bryce Jordan Center having solidifying theirs.

Just a day after climbing back into the top spot in the polls, Ohio State clinched at least a portion of the Big Ten Conference title with a big 82-61 win over Penn State.

"It feels good to have a piece but it is like what David Lighty said in the locker room after the game," freshman big man Jared Sullinger said. "He asked us if we liked sharing our girlfriends and we all said no.

"We know we have to win the next game because we don't like to share around here," Sullinger continued. "Why would we want to share something when we can just go out and grab it for ourselves?"

Penn State was hoping a win over the Buckeyes (28-2, 15-2 Big Ten) would help bolster its resume enough to potentially earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but the Nittany Lions were repeatedly reminded why Ohio State is one of the favorites to make a deep run in the Big Dance.

Senior guard Jon Diebler did most of the reminding. Better yet, all of it.

Diebler - who came into the game as the conference's most prolific 3-point shooter - tallied a career-high 30 points off of 10 made 3-pointers, the most ever made in a game in both Ohio State and Big Ten history.

Having knocked down 5-of-6 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, Diebler helped Ohio State build a 15-point halftime lead. The senior finished the game having made 10-of-12 attempts from 3-point range and the Buckeyes built a lead as high as 26 points in the second half.

"It was one of those nights where I was the guy to be the leading scorer," said Diebler, who broke his own record of nine 3-pointers in one game set early this season in the win over Florida Gulf Coast. "It will be cool to look back on, but I am just happy we won that game. It was one of the nights, I guess, where the basket felt huge. I was fortunate to knock a few down."

As it turns out, Diebler was just following instructions.

"Ironically," head coach Thad Matta said, "I had told him today at shootaround, 'Look, we need a big one from you tonight. Get your feet set and you're going to make some shots. Give me 20-plus.'

"That's the type of kid Jon is. He listens well."

Penn State never could show up for perhaps the biggest game of the season for them. Not only fighting to get a signature win in hopes of cracking a shot at the postseason, Penn State had its Senior Night festivities before the game that drew 15,403 fans, the largest crowd in 15 years.

But the Nittany Lions (15-13, 8-9) couldn't build on the emotional pregame ceremony, as they shot around 20 percent in the first half while Ohio State continued to build on its lead.

The Buckeyes - who shot 55 percent from the game - got big nights from other players aside from Diebler. Junior William Buford continued his hot shooting before finishing with 21 points off 9-of-14 shooting and Sullinger posted a double-double, registering 10 points and 10 rebounds.

One of the seniors honored, Talor Battle, led Penn State with 18 points, but it wasn't enough to keep the Lions in the game.

"Offensively we shot the ball very well and I thought our defense in the first half was really, really good," said Matta, who has led Ohio State to conference titles in four of the last six years. "For what we had to do tonight, the guys executed the game plan for what we needed to do."

But in the locker room after the game, the discussion surrounding the team had to do only with what the Buckeyes need to improve before playing its final regular season game against Wisconsin on Sunday.

There was no mention of the team's first goal of winning the Big Ten being accomplished. As far as the Buckeyes are concerned, they haven't won it yet. Wisconsin - one of only two teams that knocked off Ohio State this season - still stands in the away.

"We want it to be ours. Just ours," said Buford. "We still have a game to win."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.



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