First Thoughts From Ohio State's 50-43 Win Over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game
By Tony Gerdeman
Perhaps it wouldn't have been as sweet if it had been easier. It certainly wouldn't have been as interesting. The last nine games for the Buckeyes tell the entire story, and that story begins and ends with games against the Badgers.
On February 17th, Ohio State went into Madison and was wholly embarrassed. The Badgers pummeled the Buckeyes 71-49 and people couldn't ring the bells fast enough for Thad Matta to bring out his dead, fully poxed and plagued.
But he didn't. Rather than let them lay oozing and dying, he told them to walk it off, because there is no Black Death in Columbus, and certainly not in February.
The Buckeyes played three days later and beat an NCAA-bound Minnesota team by 26 points. Four days later, they defeated the #4-ranked Michigan State Spartans 68-60. Four days after that, they went to Evanston and won a tough one, which is generally how things go there.
Given five days to prepare for their next test, they went into Bloomington against the #2-ranked Indiana Hoosiers and somehow came away with a nine-point win. They capped the regular season with a 13-point win over NCAA-bound Illinois.
Then the Big Ten Tournament happened. They opened with a Cornhusker cakewalk, and then defeated the Spartans for the second time in three weeks. That left the Buckeyes with just one more immediate game at hand.
Exactly one month earlier Wisconsin was treating Ohio State like they found them on the bottom of their boots, but this time they weren't so easy to scrape off.
The Buckeyes' 50-43 win over the Badgers wasn't just a Big Ten Tournament Championship-clinching win, it was also a return to their death den. They saw where they once were, and compared it to where they now stood. There is no more sickness here. No more pity.
Now they are alive and healthy, and playing better than they have at any point this season. The NCAA Tournament is wide open, and you're going to have a difficult time finding a team that has played as well as the Buckeyes have for the last 30 days.
Scoring is Overrated. The most amazing part about this current eight-game stretch of Buckeye perfection is that it's happening while Deshaun Thomas is shooting his absolute worst.
In these last eight games Thomas is shooting 37.6% from the field, just 19.1% from behind the three-point line, and scoring 17.6 points per game, which is 2.5 points below where his average was prior to the winning streak.
We have talked all season about how the Buckeyes needed a consistent second scorer to take the next step. I even said a couple of months ago that they didn't need one specific player to step up, just so long as somebody stepped up.
The emergence of that random second scorer became even more important with the slump that Thomas has gone through. Still, no matter how poorly he shoots, he always shows up in the end. In this game, Thomas scored seven of the Buckeyes final 15 points.
Now here the Buckeyes are with as many as five or six players who can be that necessary scoring spark. Just imagine how good things could be if Thomas gets his shot back.
Ross Appreciation Day. LaQuinton Ross only scored seven points, but it was the timing of those seven points that was impressive.
All seven of his points came in the second half. The first came on a three-pointer to give the Buckeyes a 32-31 lead. But it was the offensive rebound and putback to make it 45-41, followed by a driving, spinning layup less than two minutes later that gave the Buckeyes all of the points that they'd need.
Both baskets displayed what we haven't seen much of from Ross lately. He was strong, he was determined, and even though he did have a charge, he was as under control as he has been in a while.
Ross poses a threat that teams don't really bother accounting for -- the seventh man off the bench who can take over a game. Few teams have a luxury like that. Of course, he is just as likely to turn a ball over while dribbling, but the potential for more games like Sunday's is always there.
Ross averaged nine points per game in the Big Ten Tournament, and if he can keep that average going for the rest of the postseason, you have to like the Buckeyes' chances.
Small Ball Strikes Again. The Buckeyes went with their small lineup, featuring Deshaun Thomas at center, for the final 10:25 of the game. The score was tied 35-35 at the time, meaning that the smaller lineup outscored the Badgers 15-8 over those final 10 minutes.
Wisconsin went to their bigger lineup, bringing in center Jared Berggren, in an attempt to outsize the Buckeyes. It really had no effect because it was immediately after that when LaQuinton Ross drove and spun in the lane for a layup.
Bo Ryan tried to force Thad Matta to go back to a normal lineup, but Matta didn't feel like it, essentially telling Ryan to "deal with it".
Quick Thoughts. I liked the jump hook by Amir Williams to start the second half. There's really no reason that every center in the nation, even Amir Williams, shouldn't be able to convert this. However, he needs to build up the confidence that his teammates have in him before he can expect consistent looks. They tried to go to him again a bit later, but it just wasn't happening. ... Aaron Craft defending Jared Berggren in the post at the end of the game was amazing. Wisconsin wanted to get him the ball, but they simply couldn't. ... Refs are dumb. First they missed a forearm shiver, which I can understand. That probably would have decided the game, and the refs don't want to be responsible for deciding the Big Ten Tournament Champs. The second huge gaffe, however, was the double dribble call on Aaron Craft. That could have turned the game around had it not been for the Buckeyes' stellar defense. ... Speaking of that stellar defense, Wisconsin's last field goal came with 7:03 to play in the game. They scored four points over that span, all free throws. The Buckeyes out-Badgered the Badgers.
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