Cody Cousino / Asst. multimedia editor
Thad Matta’s first goal for his No. 1-ranked team is within reach.
With two games left to play in the regular season and a one-game lead over second-place Purdue (24-5, 13-3 Big Ten), Ohio State (27-2, 14-2 Big Ten) can clinch a share of the conference title with a win against Penn State (15-12, 8-8 Big Ten) tonight in State College, Pa.
Matta and his players have said all season that their primary goal is to win the conference title, despite the chatter from outside the program about National Championship aspirations.
“I don’t like to share,” fifth-year senior forward David Lighty said of the possibility of earning a share of the conference title before Sunday’s win against Indiana (12-17, 3-13 Big Ten).
“We want to win it outright,” senior guard Jon Diebler added. “That’s the plan.”
Purdue travels to face Illinois (18-11, 8-8 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. EST tonight, and a Boilermaker loss to the Fighting Illini would ensure the Buckeyes’ share of the title before they tip off against Penn State at 9 p.m. An OSU win paired with a Purdue loss would give OSU the title outright.
Coming off the 21-point thumping of Indiana, the Buckeyes had only one day between games. Matta said the team planned to look at film and go through its normal light shooting routine on Monday.
Because of the 9 p.m. start, the team elected to travel to State College this morning. It’s customary that the team travel the day before a road game, but Matta said he preferred getting there the day of, in this case.
“Nothing’s worse than waking up at 9 o’clock, thinking, ‘We have 13 hours until tipoff,'” he said Sunday.
The Buckeyes have had two games in three days twice this season, winning the second contest each time. The team took care of Oakland, 92-63, on Dec. 23 after beating UNC Asheville two days earlier. It rebounded after the Feb. 20 loss at Purdue by beating Illinois, 89-70, on Feb. 22.
Lighty said he was planning to get plenty of rest while making a tongue-in-cheek reference to getting rides to and from his classes Monday to avoid walking. Getting used to a quick turnaround could be beneficial for the Buckeyes with the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments quickly approaching.
“In the tournament, you only get one day between game days,” Lighty said, “so it is kind of like preparation for the tournament.”
On the road again
The Buckeyes have lost their past two road games, to Wisconsin (22-6, 12-4 Big Ten) and Purdue. They look to put an end to that streak tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The attendance record for Penn State’s home venue was set at 15,472 on Feb. 1, 1997, against Purdue. That record might be in jeopardy with the nation’s No. 1 team coming to town and Penn State looking for a statement win that could bolster its chances at making the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s tough playing everywhere in the Big Ten. Everyone brings their ‘A’ game,” Lighty said. “Especially us being at the top of the Big Ten, everyone wants to knock you off. They’re going to be playing harder, so you got to be ready.”
The Nittany Lions are 13-4 at home this season, while OSU is 8-2 on the road. At this point in the campaign, the Buckeyes need to get comfortable away from Columbus.
They will be traveling to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament starting on March 10, followed by the NCAA Tournament, in which the location of their first game has yet to be determined.
Senior point guard Talor Battle leads the Big Ten in scoring at 20.5 points per game, just ahead of Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson’s 20.4. Battle logged 15 points on just 5-for-17 shooting in his team’s three-point loss to OSU on Jan. 15. He missed a game-tying three with two seconds left.
Battle leads the Big Ten with 3.19 threes made per game. In the Buckeyes’ two previous losses, Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor (27 points, 5-for-8 on threes) and Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore (38 points, 7-for-10 on threes) were the key factors, especially from beyond the arc.
Preventing Battle from having a similar standout performance will be key for OSU in preventing a third straight road loss.
“Obviously with Talor Battle, one of the best guards in the league … it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us,” Matta said. “They have a lot of guys that can really, really shoot the basketball.”