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Ohio State basketball on top of Big Ten standings

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

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The Ohio State men’s basketball team is alone in first place in the Big Ten standings, but they aren’t celebrating about it. Not yet, anyway.

The now-No. 3-ranked Buckeyes defeated then-No. 20-ranked Michigan, 64-49, Sunday to move into the top spot in the conference, but coaches and players alike said they aren’t concerned with their standing in the Big Ten at this point in the season.

OSU has far from completed its Big Ten schedule — two games against Michigan State, away games at Northwestern and Michigan, and a Saturday trip to Wisconsin still await the Buckeyes.

It’s understandable why the team might not be in a mood to rejoice in its No. 1 position in the Big Ten.

“The game on Saturday against Wisconsin,” said sophomore forward Jared Sullinger. “That’s the biggest focus right now.”

OSU’s average margin of victory through its first 21 games is 22 points, and Sunday’s 15-point victory against the Wolverines was the second-closest game the men’s team has played at the Schottenstein Center so far this season.

OSU sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., said it was good for the Buckeyes to win a tighter contest.

“It feels good — it goes to show us that even if we don’t blow someone out, if we stay together and get through the adversity, we can pull out a win,” Smith Jr., said. “We grinded it out, things didn’t go our way, but we made the best of the situation.”

OSU coach Thad Matta agreed with Smith Jr., saying it was good to win a “grind-it-out” game.

“It’s probably good for us,” Matta said. “We knew going in (to the Michigan game) it was going to be a hard-fought battle. You know, we haven’t had those. We’ve had sizeable leads at halftime the last couple of games. Hopefully we’re a better team because of it.”

The Buckeyes’ remaining regular season schedule will see the team play five home games and five away games. The team will then travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, where the team could play as many as four games from March 8-11.

Then comes the NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps with an eye on his team’s remaining schedule, Matta said he likes where his team is positioned in the conference, but added that there is much more basketball to be played.

“It’s such a long season and we have to keep the focus on us,” Matta said. “Obviously, there’s some things we need to continue to get better at.”

After the win against Michigan, Matta did concede that the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten is the preferable position to be in, though.

“It beats second (place),” Matta said. “I do know that.”

The Buckeyes (19-3, 7-2) continue conference play on Saturday against No. 19 Wisconsin (17-5, 6-3). Opening tip at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., is scheduled for 2 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

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