No apologies: Ohio State treasures win, hopes to build on it in Purdue rematch
INDIANAPOLIS – Thursday afternoon might not have been a thing of beauty for Ohio State. At times, the opening game of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament was a downright struggle for the Buckeyes and undoubtedly more so for their fans.
There’s one thing the unequivocally was, though, and that was the main point of emphasis inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
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It was a win. For the first time in more than three weeks, the Buckeyes built a lead and made enough plays down the stretch to make it hold up. The final result was a 79-75 win against Minnesota that earns fifth-seeded Ohio State a third shot at Purdue in what will be the second game of the day Friday.
“We’re not giving this one back by any stretch,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “I feel good about being able to survive and advance and move forward.”
In a game the Buckeyes never trailed, they built a 13-0 lead to open the game, pushed it as high as 14 late and avenged a 17-point loss to the Golden Gophers in the process. And yet, like they have recently, they allowed a double-digit lead to dwindle in the closing minutes only to make enough key plays late to finish this one off.
Last time out, Illinois closed with a 9-0 run as Ohio State missed its final 10 shots from the floor in a 73-68 home loss on Saturday. This time, a 72-60 lead with 1:38 to play was slashed to one point before E.J. Liddell hit two free throws with eight seconds left, then grabbed a missed Marcus Carr rebound and passed to Duane Washington Jr., who was fouled and hit two more with 2.6 seconds left to set the final score and fend off the upset.
This one felt different than recent late-game losses to Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois as it unfolded, senior guard CJ Walker said.
“I felt like we stayed connected,” he said. “That’s something I mentioned in our losing streak. It’s March. You’ve got to keep playing one play at a time. That’s what we did better than we did in our losing streak. I’m proud of how we stayed connected and made plays.”
The reward is a showdown with a Purdue team that beat the Buckeyes twice. First was a 67-60 win at Mackey Arena on December 16 and then a last-second, 67-65 win at Value City Arena on January 19. Those two games are among the six worst offensive performances by Ohio State this season.
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“This game, it means a little bit more,” forward Justice Sueing said. “We definitely want to make another statement and survive and advance. It’s definitely going to be a good game. Purdue’s a good team.”
Defensively, Ohio State’s efficiency ratings in those two games are the best and third-best among its losses this season. So in short, Purdue hasn’t buried Ohio State offensively as much as the Buckeyes have struggled at a high level to consistently score against the Boilermakers.
In the two losses, Ohio State shot 22 for 52 (42.3%) from two-point range. Against Minnesota on Thursday, Ohio State scored 48 points in the paint and attempted 44 two-point shots, its most against a Big Ten team all season. In the second Purdue loss, Ohio State only attempted 18 twos.
“Purdue plays you a little differently defensively than Minnesota but both teams can make it difficult for you,” Holtmann said. “I do think we were really intentional about playing through the paint and turning down some threes at times.”
Before turning attention to the Boilermakers, though, the Buckeyes finally got to do a little singing inside their locker room. Led by Washington, the “Buckeye Battle Cry” rang out to celebrate a win, as is tradition.
“Guys were excited,” Holtmann said. “I want them to enjoy this. It’s not life and death. Sometimes you can feel like that a little bit when you’ve lost a couple, but I was really proud of them today. We’ll see how we respond (Friday).”
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