Buckeyes Won’t Settle for Second Place
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — Even for Ohio State fans, it will be hard to root against Penn State on Sunday.
The upstart Nittany Lions have knocked off Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State over the course of three days to play their way into the Big Ten Tournament title game for the first time in school history.
Senior point guard Talor Battle is one of the great stories in college basketball and Penn State can secure themselves a spot in the Big Dance with a win over the top-ranked Buckeyes.
Ohio State won the conference tournament last year and they have already locked up a No. 1 seed for this year’s NCAA Tournament before they ever take the court Sunday. It only seems fair to give the other guys a chance.
That’s not the way these Buckeyes think.
“We're trying to win it again,” senior Jon Diebler said.
“That's our second goal. Before the tournament there was a lot of talk that this wasn't a big deal for Ohio State because of how well we did during the season, but we didn't listen to that talk.”
Instead, they went out and battled Northwestern to an overtime victory in their opening game, despite shooting about as poorly as this team has all year long. It would have been a perfectly reasonable excuse for bowing out of the conference tournament early and getting back to Columbus for some rest, but this team isn’t looking for excuses.
“You don't want to lose, you don't want to go home. We wouldn't feel good coming down here for one day then coming back the same day,” senior Dallas Lauderdale said.
“No, absolutely not. That's not us. That's not the way we play, that's not the way we're coached.”
Thad Matta has always been good at downplaying the importance of the conference tournament. He places much higher value on the challenge of being at the top after the grind of an 18-game conference schedule, but it’s his own fault that his Buckeyes have played in five of the last Big Ten Tournament title games.
He is the one who recruited a roster of kids who hate to lose.
“We feel like if we're in a tournament we want to win it. If we're playing a basketball game, we want to win it,” Lauderdale continued.
“There's going to be declared a winner and a loser, and we want to be the winner.”
The Buckeyes won this tournament a year ago in a similar fashion. They knocked off Michigan 69-68 in their opening game on a 37-foot buzzer beater by Evan Turner. They followed that up with a double-overtime win over Illinois before pulling away from Minnesota for a 90-61 win the championship game.
“(This is our) third one in the row,” said Lauderdale, a senior out of Solon.
“We lost one and won last year. We've got to win this one this year.”
Like they did a year ago, the Buckeyes won the regular season Big Ten championship, only this time they didn’t have to share it with Purdue and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers and Badgers were the only two teams to beat Ohio State all season long—both in their own buildings—and the Buckeyes would like to keep it that way.
“We're focused on…we reached our first goal during the regular season, and this is our second goal (that we made) at the beginning of the season when we first got together,” said Diebler, a senior out of Upper Sandusky.
“This is something that personally we would like to do.”
This group of Buckeyes is already set to go down as one of the most successful in school history, but what’s one more trophy to add to the collection.
“We're in a championship. It's another game, so we want to come out and play with the most intensity that we can,” junior William Buford said.
“It's the championship, and nobody wants to lose a championship.”
That, and one more thing. A loss to Penn State Sunday would be the worst of the season for the Buckeyes, and that’s saying a lot considering all the Nittany Lions have accomplished this weekend.
“We want to end this Big Ten Tournament on a good note,” Buford added.
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