Matt Edwards / Multimedia editor
The Ohio State men’s basketball team avenged its Dec. 31 loss to Indiana with an 80-63 win against the Hoosiers Sunday and the key to the Buckeyes’ retaliation was defense, players and coach Thad Matta said after the game.
“Their defense today is what I dream about,” Matta said. “We’ve shown signs of five players coming together and playing defense, but today we did a good job of playing total team defense.”
Sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said OSU’s defense was on point.
“We were connected on defense. I was so happy to be on defense because I felt like we could have stopped any team in the country,” Smith Jr. said after his career high 28-point performance in the game.
Sophomore guard Aaron Craft said he thinks the win could be the momentum builder the team needed.
“Throughout the year we’ve had ups and downs,” Craft said. “Hopefully we can learn from this and understand we’re our best when we play good defense.”
He said he credits much of Sunday’s success to the practices the team had after OSU’s 79-74 loss to Illinois Jan. 10.
“We were playing with an edge,” Craft said. “We came in with a great understanding that each day was important. We had to work.”
Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger admitted in the postgame press conference that his team had been struggling partly due to his taking breaks on the defensive end.
“There have been times in the Illinois game where I took a break from the defensive game,” he said. “Honestly, I was one of those people who played hard when they wanted to and honestly, I have to stop that.”
Sullinger said when he sees players such as Craft giving it their all, it motivates him.
“Next practice we had, Craft said something to me about it,” Sullinger said. “‘Come on big fella, lets go.’ I understood exactly what he was saying.”
But Craft said Sullinger is coming out and setting a great example for his team.
“He’s one of those guys you don’t have to say much to and sometimes that’s all it takes,” Craft said.
Sullinger said his main motivation for the game against the Hoosiers was simple — revenge.
“A lot of people try to make it personal, like me versus them, and I just try to get my mind off that and remember that it’s team basketball, and as a result, Lenzelle came out and had 28 points,” Sullinger said.
After Indiana, the Buckeyes have six days off before their next game at Nebraska. Craft said he hopes that the team can get healthy and “exhale” from their defensive performance against Indiana during its time off.
“It just goes to show how strong defensively we can be when we’re talking, communicating and listening to each other,” Craft said.
The Buckeyes will hit the road to take on Nebraska at 8 p.m. Saturday .
“I’m looking forward to going to Nebraska for the first time and getting a welcome from the Cornhuskers,” Sullinger said.