-- With senior stars Brent Darby and Sean Connolly looking on, Ohio State advanced to the Big Ten tournament final today behind the free throw shooting of the team's least likely suspect -- a freshman reserve who hadn't taken a shot from the line all season.
Charles Bass banked in the winning free throw with 6.3 seconds remaining to give eighth-seeded Ohio State a 55-54 win over No. 5 Michigan State and a chance to play in Sunday's final against Illinois, which held off Indiana, 73-72, in the second semifinal.
Bass, who made only his first free throw, finished with one point in six minutes. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said he was aware of Bass's scant free throw experience and intentionally sent his players after the freshman. Darby was handling the ball when the whistle blew and thought the foul had been called against him.
"Charles told me, 'Don't worry, I got it,' " Darby said after the game. "So I just stepped away from him and let him do his thing."
After Spartans guard Chris Hill missed an off-balance 13-footer to run out the clock, Darby sprinted the length of the court and into the stands, where his mother was sitting. He finished with 23 points to raise his three-day total to 57.
His team, which won only seven conference games during the regular season, came here needing to win another four to break into the NCAA tournament. After beating Iowa by two, upsetting No. 1 seed Wisconsin in the quarterfinals and edging Michigan State today, that possibility is 40 minutes away.
"This was really just a terrific, terrific win for our guys," Ohio State Coach Jim O'Brien said. "We were holding on in the second half for our dear life."
Ohio State withstood a second-half Spartans surge after limiting Michigan State to 17 points in the first half.
The Buckeyes went on an 18-0 run in the first half that ate almost 12 minutes off the clock. During the stretch, Michigan State struggled on everything from desperation three-pointers to open, eight-foot jump shots.
"I told them at halftime that they embarrassed themselves and their university, and I really believe that," Izzo said. "Some of these guys really have to grow up."
Michigan State went into the break riding a long, last-second three-pointer by freshman guard Maurice Ager. The shot did little to boost the Spartans' 15 percent shooting mark in the first half, but it did help their morale.
In the second half, Michigan State whittled down the Buckeyes' lead until taking a 51-50 lead with 3 minutes 43 seconds left in the game. However, Bass's late heroics erased the comeback efforts of the Spartans.
* ILLINOIS 73, INDIANA 72: The No. 6 seed Hoosiers made a last-minute challenge to Illinois' lead. Indiana guard Tom Coverdale hit two three-pointers in the final seven seconds, but his effort came up one point short of upsetting the Illini, who held a comfortable 10-point lead for most of the second half.
Indiana couldn't overcome Illinois senior forward Brian Cook, whose two free throws with 5.2 seconds left effectively clinched the win. He finished with 25 points to Coverdale's 21.
Despite the loss, the Hoosiers head back to Indiana confident that their performance in the tournament has earned them a spot in the NCAAs.
"We had a stretch there where we were really bad," Coach Mike Davis said. "But these last three days, we really played well on both ends of the court, our confidence is there, and Coverdale is playing his best basketball."