Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor
One week after winning its second consecutive Big Ten title, the Ohio State men’s basketball team will look to earn its second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title, when it travels to Indianapolis for part two of what the team is calling a three-part mission.
“Our first mission was, you know, a regular-season Big Ten championship. That’s complete,” fifth-year senior forward David Lighty said following the Buckeyes’ 93-65 win against Wisconsin on Sunday. “And now we’re just turning our focus on the little three-day tournament that we need to win. That just will get us ready for the NCAA Tournament.”
Holding the No. 1 seed in the tournament, the Buckeyes will receive a bye for the first round of the tournament Thursday, and will return to action at noon Friday, when they’ll face the winner of Thursday’s matchup between Northwestern and Minnesota. OSU is a combined 3-0 against Northwestern and Minnesota this season, having beaten Minnesota twice, and Northwestern once on the road Jan. 29.
Defeating both the Golden Gophers and the Wildcats proved to be no easy tasks for the Buckeyes.
In OSU’s first game against Minnesota on Jan. 9, it took junior William Buford’s blocked shot on Minnesota freshman guard Austin Hollins’ 3-point attempt at the buzzer to secure a 67-64 win against the Golden Gophers.
In the Buckeyes’ lone matchup of the year against Northwestern, OSU found itself tied with the Wildcats in the final minute of play. A steal by Lighty led to a Northwestern foul on OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger, who made one of his two free-throw attempts, to give the then-unbeaten Buckeyes a 58-57 win.
Should OSU beat either Minnesota or Northwestern, it will continue tournament play Saturday against the winner of Friday’s matchup between Michigan and Illinois. The Wolverines and Fighting Illini will face off 25 minutes after the end of OSU’s second-round matchup.
The Buckeyes hold a combined 4-0 record against both Michigan and Illinois this season. In the event that OSU wins its third-round matchup on Saturday, it will advance to the championship game at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Despite his team having already wrapped up a regular-season championship — and likely a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — OSU coach Thad Matta said he is confident his team is focused on the second part of its mission.
“That’s honestly how these guys have thought all along,” Matta said following Sunday’s win against Wisconsin. “I told them, ‘Hey, enjoy this tonight, but when we get back together, please bring the same mindset you’ve brought for 133 practices already this year.”