Despite Loss In Finals, Lessons Still Learned For Buckeyes In Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS- As the clock expired and the final buzzer sounded, Jared Sullinger pulled his jersey over his face and dropped to his knees, clearly in pain over the realization that his team had failed to complete the second part of its three-part mission this season. But while the No. 7-ranked Ohio State men’s basketball team (27-7, 13-5) will walk away from Indianapolis without its third consecutive Big Ten Tournament championship, not all was lost from the Buckeyes annual trip to the conference tournament.
A 68-64 defeat at the hands of No. 8 Michigan State (27-7, 13-5) made for a somber OSU locker room in the moments in between the end of the Big Ten championship game and the NCAA Tournament selection show, but it didn’t erase what was accomplished in the days leading up to Sunday’s championship game.
The Buckeyes breezed through both the tournament’s quarterfinals and semifinals thanks to two of their most dominant performances of the season. On Friday, OSU used a second half surge to turn what was a just a four-point lead at halftime into a 88-71 blowout win over Purdue. The Buckeyes followed that up with a 77-55 domination of co-Big Ten regular season champion Michigan, in which the Wolverines never seemed to have a shot after falling behind 16-3 to open the game.
OSU’s two wins to start the tournament helped complete a four-ame winning streak to start the month of March, something that was encouraging for a Buckeye team that suffered three losses in the February- the same number of losses that they endured over the entire course of the 2010-11 season.
“A lot of people doubted us and we won some big games in these last couple games,” OSU forward Deshaun Thomas said. “We feel like we’ve got the confidence now in the NCAA to take over.”
Thomas averaged 18.3 points in the Buckeyes’ three games this weekend on his way to being named to the Big Ten’s All-Tournament team. Joining the sophomore forward on the tournament team was his classmate Jared Sullinger. The Buckeye big man looked like the National Player of the Year candidate that he was expected to be before the season started, averaging 24 points and nine rebounds in OSU’s three conference tournament games.
After a rough stretch in February saw Sullinger fail to reach double-digit numbers in scoring and rebounding in consecutive games, OSU coach Thad Matta said that he expected his leading scorer to have a big weekend in Indianapolis.
“Leading into this, Jared probably had his three best practices of the year. And that was- I knew he was going to play well,” Matta said. “We've got to continue to get him rested, get his body taken care of, and that's the hard part when you play three games in three days.”
In Sunday’s championship game, Sullinger managed to score 18 points and pull down nine rebounds while fighting foul trouble, but was visibly frustrated with a performance that featured him scoring his fewest point total of the weekend, despite taking 19 shots- the most he took in the tournament. Even in defeat, lessons were learned for an Buckeye team that ultimately earned a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a tough fought game and it was a NCAA called type game,” Sullinger said. “It was a very tough battle and I think we can learn from it. So hopefully these guys understand that we can’t dwell on this loss and we just have to keep moving forward.”
After returning to Columbus, the Buckeyes will spend Monday and Tuesday taking exams before traveling to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. From there, OSU will meet up with No. 15-seeded Loyola (24-8, 13-5) in their tournament opener on Thursday and hope that both its momentum and lessons learned from this weekend carry over into a deep tournament run.
“There’s no tomorrow. This was probably the last game of this season where if we lose, we can have practice the next day,” Sullinger said. “This team understands that as long as we have two feet in and we’re ready to play, I think we’re one of the best teams in the country,” Sullinger said.