Thanks to a ridiculous three-pointer from C.J. Jackson and a posterizing dunk from Andre Wesson, Ohio State and Indiana left Assembly Hall in February headed in decidedly different directions.
The Buckeyes, winners of three straight and four of five, were strongly trending upward and were back to even at 6-6 in the Big Ten after a five-game losing streak. By contrast, the Hoosiers had lost their eighth game out of nine, a stretch that endured until they had dropped 12 of 13 and were staring at a sub-.500 overall record.
Where their paths diverged, the winding woods of conference play have brought them back to the same point as they enter the postseason. Ohio State and Indiana will face each other Thursday in Chicago riding significantly different season-ending stretches of play.
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The Buckeyes will bring a three-game losing streak, achieved in no small part due to a suspension to Kaleb Wesson, to the United Center for a Big Ten tournament second-round game. Indiana, meanwhile, has won four straight to rescue what was turning into a season on the brink.
“No question, if you watched us here these last three or four weeks, you’d say, ‘That team right there is playing hard. They look like a good team,’ ” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “At the end of the year, that’s all you hope for.”
>> Read more: Kaleb Wesson needs to be thinking about his actions
The Hoosiers have gotten improved play from a number of players, allowing Miller to deepen his bench. From senior Juwan Morgan topping 20 points in his last two games — and “playing like a man possessed,” as Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann put it — to the emergence of sophomore Justin Smith to freshman point guard Rob Phinisee bringing some stability to the position, the Hoosiers have blossomed of late around freshman Romeo Langford.
Indiana’s last two wins have been their most lopsided in conference play, 92-74 over Illinois and 89-73 over Rutgers.
“They’re playing exceptionally well,” Holtmann said. “When we played them last time, one of the things I was really impressed with (about) Indiana was their ability to really guard and be active, particularly in the half-court … and they’ve even ratcheted that up again with their length and size and athleticism.”
The Buckeyes will regain the services of Wesson, their leading scorer and rebounder. In the first meeting between the teams, Wesson had 10 points and four rebounds in 30 minutes.
His absence alone did not doom them to three straight losses, but an offense that struggled at times for significant stretches with him in the lineup took a further nosedive with him watching from the bench.
On Tuesday, both sophomore forward Kyle Young and Jackson said there is no ill will from the Buckeyes toward their teammate for his actions that have impacted their season at a crucial time of year. No reason was ever given for Wesson’s suspension other than a violation of athletic department policy.
“When things like that happen, with how fast the season goes, you can’t really consume yourself around that,” Jackson said. “There will definitely be adjustments and change, but I think it’s for the good just to have all of our pieces back.”
They will need each one to reverse the fortunes of both teams once again.
“It’s important for him and for us to not have a false sense, of, ‘Now that Kaleb’s back, everything’s fine,’ ” Holtmann said. “We’ve got to play well, and Kaleb has to help his team play well now that he’s back. That’s the bottom line.”