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Two mental States: It’s Penn vs. Ohio in Big Ten finale

Big ten Tournament

At Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Thursday — First round

No. 8 Northwestern 75, No. 9 Minnesota 65

No. 7 Michigan State 66, No. 10 Iowa 61

No. 6 Penn State 61, No. 11 Indiana 55

Friday — Quarterfinals

No. 1 Ohio State 67, No. 8 Northwestern 61 (OT)

No. 4 Michigan 60, No. 5 Illinois 55

No. 7 Michigan State 74, No. 2 Purdue 56

No. 6 Penn State 36, No. 3 Wisconsin 33

Saturday — Semifinals

No. 1 Ohio State 68, No. 4 Michigan 61

No. 6 Penn State 61, No. 7 Michigan State 48

Today — Championship, 2:30 p.m., Ch. 2

INDIANAPOLIS — As the No. 1 team in the country, Ohio State had a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament locked up long before it arrived here for the Big Ten tournament, but don’t try to convince the Buckeyes there’s nothing to play for this weekend.

If someone’s keeping score, there’s something at stake.

‘‘You get in this tournament and, quite honestly, you become ultra-competitive,’’ coach Thad Matta said.

Top-seeded Ohio State needed all of that competitive spirit to pull away in the second half for a 68-61 victory over fourth-seeded Michigan in a semifinal game Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Buckeyes (31-2) will face sixth-seeded Penn State — a 61-48 winner over seventh-seeded Michigan State in the other semifinal — in the championship game today.

Penn State, which still isn’t a lock for an NCAA bid, certainly has more to play for, but Ohio State won’t be lacking for motivation. The Buckeyes have reached the championship game of the conference tournament the last three years; a win today would give them back-to-back titles.

‘‘We’re going to prepare like it’s the next game on the schedule — because it is,’’ Matta said. ‘‘And the thing I love about this team, that’s sort of how they want it. That’s what they do. You know, it’s another opportunity to play a game, and that’s just sort of how I’ve seen their minds work all year.’’

Neither the victory over Michigan nor Friday’s overtime win against Northwestern was easy, but Matta believes both were good preparation for the NCAA tournament. Besides adjusting to the pressure of a tight game in a win-or-go-home format, the Buckeyes faced a pair of smaller, perimeter-oriented teams — precisely the kind they figure to face early on.

‘‘I think I drew the short straw when we drew [to see] who we were playing,’’ Matta said. ‘‘I think with the way that Northwestern’s system is and Michigan’s system is, it is definitely, definitely unique. We’ll build our guys up off of that as saying, ‘Hey, if we can guard that stuff at the level we’ve guarded the first 80 minutes, hopefully we’ll be more sound defensively.’ ’’

Penn State (19-13) entered the conference tournament on the proverbial bubble but believes it has done enough to earn an at-large NCAA bid after three straight wins.

‘‘I hope so,’’ senior guard Talor Battle said. ‘‘But I’ll tell you, if we win [today], we’re in [with the Big Ten’s automatic bid]. Our focus is to try and win the game.’’

Penn State advancing to the title game will do nothing to ease Illinois’ anxiety as it awaits the announcement of the NCAA bracket tonight. In his latest projections Saturday night, ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi added the Nittany Lions to the field of 68 and now has seven Big Ten teams earning bids, including Illinois, which he had dropped to a No. 11 seed after the Illini’s loss to Michigan on Friday. If the Big Ten is awarded seven spots, the Illini are in. If the conference gets six, there’s a chance they could be left out.

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