Buckeyes Not Celebrating Until They Cut Down Nets
By Brandon Castel
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From the moment this Ohio State team came together over the summer, they had one goal in mind: win the Big Ten championship.
They also have aspirations of advancing past the Sweet 16—where they were bounced from last year’s NCAA Tournament—along with winning a national championship, but first and foremost it was all about the Big Ten.
With that in mind, there should have been whooping and hollering in the OSU locker room following Tuesday night’s lopsided win over Penn State. With the win, an 82-61 shellacking in Bryce Jordan Arena, the Buckeyes locked up at least a share of the regular season conference crown.
But there was no whooping and hollering after the game, no post-game celebration. There were no pats on the back or sighs of relief over a job well done. Instead, the Ohio State players were strangely business-like for a team that had just clinched a conference championship.
“It’s not over yet. We still have one more game,” junior William Buford said in the hallway outside the visiting locker room.
“We still have to take care of that last game. We don't want to share it. We shared it last year. We don't want to do that this year.”
Don’t get him wrong. Buford and the Buckeyes were proud of what they accomplished last year. Bouncing back from a 1-3 start in conference play to share the title with Purdue and Michigan State was a tremendous achievement, especially considering their best player missed a month of the season with a broken back.
But this isn’t last year’s team, and with all due respect to Evan Turner, this group has no intentions of sharing their title with anyone else.
“We want to win it outright, we don't like to share,” freshman Jared Sullinger said.
“That's like sharing your girlfriend, we don't like to do that. We like to keep it one man, one girl.”
Sullinger wasn’t on the team last year, which means he likely doesn’t have a full appreciation for all that went into that shared championship. He does, however, know a thing or two about winning outright titles, and he isn’t about to start settling for anything less.
“I classify myself as a winner. And when you classify yourself as a winner, you've got a target on your back,” said Sullinger, the reigning Naismith Award winner in high school basketball.
“This team loves to win. Coach Matta recruited winners. Will (Buford) went to the state championship. Dave(Lighty) lost to O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker's team in the state championship. Jon (Diebler) won I think two states. (Aaron) Craft came runner-up. Me and J.D. (Weatherspoon) won a state a championship. Lenzelle (Smith) won a state title. Jordan (Sibert) lost to us in the state championship. Deshaun (Thomas) won two championships. Overall, that's just winners.”
Even Head Coach Thad Matta barely acknowledged the feat in the locker room following Tuesday’s clinching victory.
“We talked about what we had to do from the standpoint of defending a little bit better in the second half. We talked about the things we did well,” he said in his post-game press conference.
“Really with one game left, I think that I said that we at least have a share, but that was about it.”
Matta and the Buckeyes have worked long and hard to put themselves in this position. Had Purdue lost at Michigan State Sunday, they would have been able to lock up an outright championship Tuesday. Instead, the Boilermakers pounded the Spartans by 20 in East Lansing and then rallied to beat Illinois at home Tuesday just prior to OSU’s tipoff against Penn State.
That leaves Ohio State (15-2) with a one-game lead over the Boilermakers (14-3) heading into the final game of the regular season. Purdue will play their finale Saturday at Iowa, but the Hawkeyes are tied for last place in the Big Ten with a 3-14 record.
Which means Ohio State’s chance for an outright Big Ten championship will likely come down to Sunday’s fitting finale against Wisconsin – the only team in the conference the Buckeyes have not beaten this season.
“It will put a little extra icing on the cake,” Sullinger said of facing the Badgers.
“It adds little sprinkles on to it, because we know Wisconsin beat us and we're just trying to win it outright. I don't know what else to say, but we don't share our girlfriend around here, and right now that's our girlfriend.”
Senior Jon Diebler said it a little bit differently after Tuesday night’s win.
“Obviously some teams might look at that and say, 'We already won the Big Ten', but like Will said, we would like to win it outright,” Diebler said after splashing a school and arena record 10 threes against the Nittany Lions.
“That was our first goal when we worked out in the summer and at the beginning of the season and we're one game from achieving that goal.”
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