It has been awhile since Ohio State men’s basketball players and coaches have had to work their way through a full suitcase of clothes.
On Wednesday, the Buckeyes departed for Indianapolis to prepare for Thursday’s second-round Big Ten tournament game against Purdue. They did so amid growing concerns about the coronavirus and with a roster lighter than they’d like, with freshmen D.J. Carton and Alonzo Gaffney still unavailable and junior Kyle Young listed as day to day with an ankle injury, per coach Chris Holtmann.
They also left with a purpose. Through the first 14 years of the event, the Buckeyes brought home five tournament championships, including back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011. Since then, they have won just one, in 2013, and have not won more than one game during the past five years.
The goal this year is to come home with suitcases full of dirty clothes from a four-day stay at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It’s going to take a lot of attention to detail,” junior center Kaleb Wesson said. “Staying focused. In the tournament, you have to focus on one thing and that’s beating that team. That’s what we have to do this year.”
Since winning that 2013 tournament and then winning two games in 2014, the Buckeyes have gone 3-5. They were bounced in their opening game in 2017 and 2018. The former came in what was Thad Matta’s final game as coach, a 66-57 loss to No. 14 seed Rutgers. The latter, in Holtmann’s first season, was at the hands of a Penn State team that went 3-0 that season against the Buckeyes.
Holtmann, too, has historically struggled to advance in conference tournaments. During his three years with Gardner-Webb, three with Butler and first two with Ohio State, he is a combined 2-8.
“I’ve not looked back in terms of those numbers, but it’s a tremendous tournament,” Holtmann said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity. It would obviously mean a lot (to win it), but we don’t want to get the cart before the horse.”
The Buckeyes begin against a Purdue team that is playing for its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Boilermakers are 16-15 overall, and as of Wednesday afternoon were among the “next four out” category in Joe Lunardi’s bracket projection for ESPN.
That doesn’t mean Purdue has more to play for, according to Wesson.
“They’re playing for their season, the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “We can’t let them go in there and play with a bigger edge than us. We’re also playing for a championship. We can’t let them go out there and think it means more to them than it means to us.”
The game will be a homecoming for junior guard CJ Walker, an Indianapolis native who said his home is roughly 15 minutes from the arena. Walker is expecting about two dozen extra friends and family members beyond the regular ticket allotment to watch him return to the court where he won a state title as a sophomore for Arsenal Tech.
During Walker’s two seasons at Florida State, the Seminoles went 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
“It takes high attention to detail and giving everything you’ve got (to win),” he said. “That’s pretty much all you can do. I feel like defense wins a lot of games, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to win.”