INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Purdue coach Matt Painter appreciated his team's effort Thursday.
Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross (10) drives the ball against Purdue forward Errick Peck in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Indianapolis. Ohio State won 63-61. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
He still didn't like the numbers on the box score — or the scoreboard.
Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross combined to score nine points in a late 12-4 run that gave No. 24 Ohio State control and the Buckeyes held on for a 63-61 win — only after Terone Johnson's buzzer-beating 3-pointer came up short in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Painter was convinced the Boilermakers had nobody to blame but themselves.
"We just have to get better decision makers," he said, referring to Purdue's 17 turnovers. "You have to take the guys that you already have and get them to make better decisions. Keep working with them, keep watching film. It's a game of repetition."
And Thursday's season-ending followed a similar script: Too missed opportunities and not enough scoring punch at the end.
The loss was the seventh straight for Purdue (15-17), which is not eligible for the NIT and has already said it won't play in a smaller tournament.
Still, the short-handed Boilermakers showed some grit. A.J. Hammons finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, Ronnie Johnson, Terone's younger brother, added 12 and Terone Johnson closed out his college career with 10.
After coming into the game without guard Sterling Carter (knee) or forward Jay Simpson (heart), the Boilermakers lost freshman guard Basil Smotherman early in the second half with an apparent right leg injury. He was diagnosed with a bruised knee and bruised shin. But Purdue would not go away.
"Purdue is a team that you know they're going to play physical every game and they try to beat you up every game, especially Hammons and some of those other guys, having multiple bigs come off the bench," Ross said.
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes barely advanced.
Little has gone right lately for the Buckeyes (24-8).
In their last trip to Indiana, March 2, they managed only one basket outside of about 10 feet and went 0 for 11 from 3-point range. On Thursday, back in the Hoosier State for the first time since that dreadful performance, they were only slightly better. Ohio State shot 35.9 percent from the field, made five shots outside the paint and after missing their first six 3s finished 1 of 14 from beyond the arc.
The more troubling trend has been closing things out.
"It's finding a way," Craft said. "It doesn't matter how ugly a game is at this point, it's about trying to find a way to keep playing and luckily we were able to do that again."
After starting 15-0 and being ranked as high as No. 3, the Buckeyes are just 5-3 in their last eight, 2-2 in their last four and the way they finished Thursday, against a team that ended the season with seven straight losses, probably won't help their case with the NCAA's selection committee.
Craft and Smith Jr. both missed free throws in the final 15 seconds, shots that could have made it a two-possession game and sealed the win.
So the Buckeyes tried to win it another way — by fouling Purdue's Ronnie Johnson in the backcourt to prevent the Boilermakers (15-17) from even attempting a 3 that could have forced overtime.
Johnson made the first, missed the second and the Boilermakers were awarded possession on the rebound with 1.2 seconds to go after a lengthy replay review. Terone Johnson got a good look from the left wing but the shot came up short and the fifth-seeded Buckeyes made it. They'll face fourth-seeded Nebraska in Friday's quarterfinals.
"Hopefully those games that we played earlier in the year helped us get to this point, especially if we get in another game like that," Craft said.
Ross finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, Craft added 16 points and Smith Jr. scored nine to become the 26th player in school history with 1,000 career points.
Craft and Ross started the key run and when ended the spurt ended with Sam Thompson's alley-oop dunk, the Buckeyes led 59-54. Purdue answered with four straight points to make it 59-58 and were back within 61-60 when Hammons scored on a layup with 18.1 seconds left.
After the two missed free throws, the Boilermakers had one last chance but the Buckeyes hung on.
"It's good to see us win one of these ugly games," coach Thad Matta said. "We didn't play as well as we wanted to today and give Purdue all the credit for that. (Our) guys made some plays down the stretch and we were able to get out of here with a win."