Really though, this week was an important one for the men’s basketball team. The conference slate started off rough. Evan Turner’s early season back injury put the Buckeyes behind the 8-ball early into conference play. The losses to Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin in light of the stellar play of Michigan State and Purdue seemed to doom the Buckeyes from the start. The first two losses seem particularly avoidable if Turner had been playing and, in the second case, had been playing full speed. However, the Buckeyes got major help. Purdue started the festitivities by Purdue-ing itself, losing 3 straight including a home choker to the Buckeyes. Later, Michigan State had its football-inspired Sparty NO moment, dropping three straight and suddenly creating a four team logjam at the top of the Big Ten (including Ohio State and Illinois). Ohio State took care of Illinois, essentially dropping them from the race. This past week, the Buckeyes had a golden opportunity to drop Purdue and Michigan State from the race as well. They hosted Purdue and finished at East Lansing on Sunday. The Buckeyes finish the regular season with manageable games at home w/ Michigan, on the road at lowly Penn State, and a final tilt against Illinois. This last one is no gimme, but it is at home.
It’s therefore a little disconcerting that the Buckeyes dropped the first game to Purdue, serving as some kind of redemption for the Boilermakers displeased with how the second half of the January game unfolded. This game started in a manner very similar to the earlier game in West Lafayette. Poor shooting and a litany of turnovers put the Buckeyes down early. Unlike the earlier game in West Lafayette, the Buckeyes were never able to recover and eek out a victory. With it, it seemed to me that the Buckeyes were done for in the Big Ten championship race. However, the Buckeyes rebounded and posted an impressive victory in Breslin. Herein, the Buckeyes got key contributions from all the starters. Diebler hit 4 of his 10 three point attempts, finishing with 12 points. Lighty, Lauderdale and Buford hit the glass hard. Combining for 27 rebounds, the last of the three getting 10 and the double-double, all three made significant contributions on offense. Buford and Lighty finished with 17 points and 13 points respectively while Lauderdale’s eight points on 4/6 shooting is essentially what we want/expect from him for every game. As for Evan Turner? Well, having demonstrated a proficiency at the shooty hoops, he finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists en route to a record 9th career Big Ten Player of the Week Award.
The mixed result for the week means the Buckeyes are now tied with Sparty at half a game behind Purdue, who is now in the lead for the Big Ten championship. At an initial glance, it seemed that dropping the game to Purdue was crucial. Should they have won that, the Buckeyes would be a full game up on second place as I type. It’s not over, but the Buckeyes will need Purdue to Purdue itself one final time. The most likely candidate is against Michigan State, this coming Sunday. Purdue and Michigan State play one final time, this time in West Lafayette. However, Purdue won the first leg of that game in East Lansing, as part of Michigan State’s Sparty NO treatment. The Buckeyes will have to win out, in all likelihood, and they have a manageable slate of games for doing just that. If Purdue loses one final game, it means the Buckeyes and Boilermakers will likely share the Big Ten trophy. If that loss is to Michigan State, Sparty gets a share as well.
Regardless, the Buckeyes have rebounded much better than I would have anticipated in January and seem to be making the most of the new life given to them by Purdue and Michigan State’s respective 3 game setbacks. The team is rounding into form at the right time, hopefully setting us up for a March run.