INDIANAPOLIS — In the annals of Ohio State men’s basketball history, it is unlikely the 2012 recruiting class will stand out.
Only one player committed — and one that wasn’t one of the countries top 150 recruits according to rivals.com..
But, for at least one day in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament, Amedeo Della Valle was a star.
With the Buckeyes (25-8, 12-8) trailing by 19 points against Nebraska (19-12, 11-8) Friday in the tournament’s quarterfinals, coach Thad Matta turned to the sophomore guard to come in and provide a spark off the bench.
That is exactly what Della Valle did.
“They were down there making the plays, so when we inserted Amedeo, it was just like, ‘Hey just give us something out there,’” Matta said after the win. “The biggest thing, like I say, I know he had 12 points, but his defense was incredible: Three blocked shot, two steals. Wow, was he good.”
Della Valle said after the game that boosting the team when they are slumping is what he does best.
“Just come in with a lot of energy,” Della Valle said. “Come in, if I’m open shoot the ball. Play defense, do whatever it takes. I’m not going to go in every game and make a shot, but in games like this where we’re not very good offensively that can definitely help the team out.”
Della Valle added that he wasn’t the same player on defense when he arrived at OSU, as the one Matta praised against Nebraska.
“I was literally bad when I came to Ohio State (on defense),” Della Valle said. “So bad on defense. Definitely got in the weight room and just understanding the defenses (helped) too.”
With 13:45 remaining in the game, Nebraska led OSU 48-30, outscoring the Buckeyes 17-2 to that point in the half. After a 3-pointer from junior forward LaQuinton Ross, Della Valle hit back-to-back layups — including one from a fast break off his own steal — that helped the momentum swing back in favor of OSU.
Ross said a big part in OSU recovering from the deficit was the play of Della Valle.
“My teammates never put their heads down, not one person on the team,” Della Valle said. “There were guys coming off the bench making big plays. You see Amedeo coming off the bench and has 12 points and hit some big free throws at the end of the game.”
Despite missing three of his first four free throws, Della Valle nailed four straight in the final 13 seconds to help seal the game for OSU.
Della Valle said missing the early shots relieved some of the pressure down the stretch.
“After I missed those two, a little pressure went off, so I was ready to knock the other two free throws down and then the last two,” he said.
Against the Cornhuskers Della Valle played 21 minutes, his highest total in Big Ten play and his most since a Jan. 4 matchup against Nebraska.
Matta said there isn’t a specific reason Della Valle plays well against the Cornhuskers, but that he has noticed the trend.
“You know, as I went back last night and watched the game, I was saying to myself ‘Hey, if we can get Amedeo going,’” Matta said. “He had a decent game. He had some great looks that didn’t go down for him. I don’t know, but the timing was perfect today, that’s for sure.”
Matta added that Della Valle is a player who plays for the reason young kids are taught to play: for the love of the game.
“Amedeo plays with no ego,” Matta said. “He just plays with a love for the game, and just did a tremendous job for us, and his defensive presence was as good — it was the difference in the game.”
Senior guard Aaron Craft echoed his coach about Della Valle, saying that when the opportunity comes, the Italian guard will take it.
“He’s huge. He’s a gamer,” Craft said. “He’s done a phenomenal job of humbling himself and just waiting for his opportunity. He took advantage today and that’s what we love to see. That’s what we see in practice on a daily basis and his opportunity just arose today. He didn’t pout or feel bad about it. He took advantage.”
With the win, OSU is scheduled to take on top-seeded and rival Michigan Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Tipoff is set for 1:40 p.m.