Buckeyes Spoil Hoosier Senior Day, Stay Alive in B1G Title Hunt
By John Porentas
BLOOMINGTON, Indiana - It was senior day at Indiana, and the No. 2 Hoosiers (25-5, 13-4) had already clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. A win would give the Hoosiers and outright title, and that is just what was expected. The sacrificial lamb for the championship coronation was to be the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes.
The only apparent snag in the celebration plan was a snowstorm that blew into the Bloomington area earlier in the day. Snowstorm or not, the Assembly Hall was packed for the game.
Prior to tip off, a prerecorded message from Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean was played over the P.A. system and shown to the crowd on the screen of the scoreboard. Crean praised the Hoosier crowd for showing up despite the weather, because as Crean put it in his fiery pregame message, that showed toughness, and toughness is what it takes to be successful and win championships.
The crowd roared in approval. Then the No. 14 Buckeyes (22-7, 12-5 Big Ten) spoiled the day by being the toughest team on the floor and dumped the Hoosiers 67-58.
It was a satisfying win for the Buckeyes who not only kept their own title hopes alive but also avenged a lopsided 81-68 home loss to the Hoosiers earlier this season.
"Absolutely we remembered it," said OSU forward Sam Thompson when asked if that loss was still on the minds of the Buckeyes.
"We remembered that they came in and embarrassed us on our home floor. We weren't going to dwell on that, We knew that we could beat this team. We know that we are one of the top teams in the country and tonight we played like it."
The Buckeyes turned the tables on the Hoosiers by doing what they do best, playing tough, hard-nosed defense and using that defense to create scoring opportunities. OSU held a 14-2 edge on the Hoosiers in fast break points, many of them coming off the eight steals made by Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, each of whom had four steals. Scott in particular pushed the ball up the court in transition against Indiana to help make the easy scoring opportunities possible.
"We knew they were a transition team but a lot of transition teams don't get back on defense," said Scott.
"They kind of settle back (on defense in transition), so I knew if I could start going back at them they would start wearing down and getting tired. I tried to focus on that and it helped out."
"Shannon was tremendous tonight," said Matta.
"The thing that he did was his ability to push the basketball. We got some easy baskets off of our defense. Shannon had a great flow to him tonight."
The Buckeyes held a three point half time lead at 28-25, but the Hoosiers would test their toughness in the second half. Indiana dominated the first five minutes of the second half to take a five point lead at 39-34 at the 14:22 mark. That's when the Buckeye toughness kicked in.
"They came out and went 5 for 5 (from the field to open the second half,) said Deshaun Thomas.
"We took a deep breath and said we needed to start playing defense again. We need to get them working and hopefully take contested shots and not get easy layups."
Thomas said the formula was simple.
"Defense and rebounding," said Thomas.
"We got steals and we got out in transition and we executed real well down the stretch. We just competed and we got the 50-50 balls. That's what this team needs to do to get to the next level and succeed in the tournament."
Defense was the key, but you still have to score points to win. To that end, the Buckeyes got something against Indiana they haven't seen much of this year, a balanced scoring attack. Four Buckeyes scored eight or more points led by 18 from Thomas and 15 from Craft.
There were big baskets made in the win, but none bigger than two made by Craft late in the shot clock in the second half when the Hoosiers were making a run at the Buckeyes. Both baskets came with the shot clock under five seconds and neither shot was layup, but Craft came through with scores that thwarted Hoosier runs. Like Crean said, it takes toughness.
"If you're a competitor you want the ball," said Craft.
"The biggest thing is no thinking it's any different than any other time on the shot clock. That's when you get tight and miss shots you normally make, just being relaxed and knowing there's a lot more time up there than it seems."
OSU Head Coach Thad Matta recognized the importance of those baskets.
"We just telling the guys poise, poise, just keep it poised We made some big buckets," said Matta.
"You want the ball in his (Craft's) hands. He got it up on the glass."
OSU and Indiana each have one remaining game on their schedule. The Buckeyes will host Illinois on Sunday and Indiana will travel to Ann Arbor to face the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines. An OSU win coupled with a Hoosier loss would result in an OSU/Indiana tie for the regular-season championship. The scenario leaves the Buckeyes in the awkward position of rooting for arch-rival Michigan. The situation is similar to the one that evolved last season when Michigan had to root for an OSU win over Michigan State for the Wolverines to claim a co-championship. The Buckeyes delivered last year. Now it's Michigan's turn to return the favor.
"They were happy last year when we won at Michigan State," said Thomas.
"The Wolverines were so happy, I heard Trey Burke and them texted Sully and said 'Thank you! Thank you!'.
"Now we do have to root for them. If we win and they win next week we win a championship, so we have to root for them. They rooted for us last year and I'm sure they rooted for us this year, so now we're going to have root for them this year and hope they can knock them off at their place."