Cody Cousino / Photo editor
INDIANAPOLIS — In a game that featured 16 lead changes and a tournament record crowd, Sunday’s Big Ten tournament final between the Ohio State men’s basketball team and Michigan State seemed more like an NCAA tournament regional final than a conference championship game.
After falling short against the Spartans, 68-64, and failing to clinch what would have been a third consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championship, the Buckeyes must find a way to recover from a tough loss and turn their focus to the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves up,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “We’ve got to get back to playing our best basketball when we take the court, next time we take it.”
The next time OSU takes the court will be Thursday against Loyola (Md.) in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes are the second seed in the East Region while the Greyhounds are the No. 15 seed.
Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger said the Buckeyes can’t let Sunday’s loss deter them from their objective going forward.
“If we keep thinking about this game, we’re going to lose track of what’s really the main goal, which is to win a national championship,” he said. “So we’ve just got to focus on that.”
While Matta and Sullinger emphasized quickly forgetting about the loss, sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said remembering the feeling of losing will help the team as it enters NCAA tournament play.
“Everybody in this locker room is going to remember this game,” Smith Jr. said. “They’re feeling down right now. They’re willing to commit to doing whatever we need to do to make sure we’re not the team that’s going home.
“I’ve talked to a few of my teammates already and we’ve recommitted ourselves and said what we’re going to do better to make sure we don’t have this feeling again. Right now of course anybody hates to lose but we get to play again.”
Fellow guard William Buford, the OSU senior who will be playing in his fourth NCAA tournament, agreed with Smith Jr.
“(Sunday’s loss) is going to help us out a lot,” Buford said. “We’re definitely going to have tough games in the (NCAA) tournament and this game is going to let us know what we need to work on in order to win those games.”
Before Sunday, the Buckeyes most recently lost the Big Ten tournament title game in 2009 to Purdue, Buford’s freshman season. Matta cautioned that the OSU team went on to lose its first NCAA tourney game.
“We lost (the conference tournament final) three years ago … and in the NCAA tournament we got beat in double overtime in the first round (to Siena),” Matta said. “So looking and saying, ‘OK, let’s put this behind us,’ these guys clearly have to understand from this point on what’s at stake.”
Sullinger said the Buckeyes are still of the nation’s top teams.
“I think we’re one of the best teams in the country,” he said. “As long as we believe that and the coaches believe that I think we can move forward.”
After beating OSU and earning a NCAA tournament No. 1 seed, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he’s still impressed with the Buckeyes.
“Ohio State is still every bit as good. I mean, I think they can make a run in this (NCAA) tournament – a big run.”
Perhaps Buford summed up Sunday’s loss best.
“Better now than in the (NCAA) tournament,” he said.
In the NCAA Tournament, OSU drew a No. 2 seed in the East Region. The Buckeyes will play No. 15 Loyola Maryland on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tipoff is set for about 9:45 p.m.