INDIANAPOLIS — In postseason college basketball, winning supersedes all.
Teams come into their conference’s respective tournaments with different amounts of dependance on each game — a win or two could help bolster an NCAA Tournament résumé. A bad loss could hurt seeding in the tournament, or a program could need to run the table to secure its spot in the big dance.
Ohio State’s tournament life is likely secure, but dropping a first-round game in the Big Ten Tournament to a team with a losing record — Purdue — wouldn’t have done the team any favors as far as seeding goes come Selection Sunday.
But the Buckeyes in fact survived to play another day with a chance at the Big Ten Title, defeating the Boilermakers, 63-61, Thursday.
The outcome wasn’t decided, however, until Purdue senior guard Terone Johnson’s final 3-pointer fell hopelessly to the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But a win is a win — the Buckeyes are now 23-9 all time in the Big Ten Tournament — and OSU is looking to further bolster its argument for a higher seed in the Big Dance when it plays in the quarterfinals Friday. Their opponent might come as a bit of a surprise to diehard Buckeye fans — Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers (19-11, 11-7) earned the tournament’s fourth seed after dispatching then-No. 9 Wisconsin, 77-68, Sunday at home, and the program has been trending upward since Tim Miles took over prior to the 2012-13 season. Nebraska finished 12-18 the year before Miles arrived, but the coach has brought a new energy and aura to the program — even splitting games with OSU this season.
The second meeting between the two teams was a 68-62 win for the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., a game that was the fourth consecutive loss for the Buckeyes. The rematch is a game senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said he’s been looking forward to playing ever since that loss.
“I’m so ready to play these guys. Obviously when we lost to them up there and they stormed the court … but we get another crack at them,” Smith Jr. said after the win Thursday. “I’m expecting the team that I know this team can be to show up tomorrow and play those guys. I’m pretty sure everybody remembers that.”
OSU shot 39.6 percent from the field in the loss, including making just six of 21 shots from beyond the arc. A pair of sophomores, guard Shavon Shields and forward Terran Petteway, paced the Huskers with 18 points each in the win, getting in the lane and drawing fouls to ultimately go a combined 10-13 from the free throw line.
Nebraska also won eight of 10 games to close out the regular season to earn the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
“They’re on a roll right now. They are playing great basketball, and obviously Shields and Petteway are doing a good job,” OSU coach Thad Matta said after his team’s victory against Purdue. “They’ve got guys that can stretch the defense, they’re shooting the ball well. I think they’re playing as well as anybody in the country right now.”
Buckeye senior guard Aaron Craft tallied a team-high 12 points against Nebraska in the Jan. 20 loss, eight of which came from the free throw line. He finished with 16 Thursday against Purdue, also swiping three of OSU’s nine steals in the game.
Craft said after the win against Purdue, shutting down the potent Nebraska guard play Friday is going to be a team effort.
“It’s got to be a big defensive game for us. They’ve got bigs that can shoot the ball, and obviously Petteway and Shields, who are playing great basketball right now,” Craft said. “It’s going to be a big team defensive effort for us.”
At times against the Boilermakers, OSU seemed disinterested, nearly sleepwalking its way to an early exit in what has been an up and down year. Doing the same against Nebraska, however, would yield a different result, Smith Jr. said.
“Obviously, guys’ minds weren’t right (against Purdue),” he said. “We got Nebraska rolling in here, and they beat us already this year and I’m pretty sure they think they can beat us again.”
Junior center Amir Williams — who had six points and grabbed nine rebounds against Purdue — said he believes Nebraska is on the bubble, but a win against OSU would go a long way for the team’s tournament hopes.
“They’ve been on a tremendous run as of late. We have that in the back of our minds, we want to win, they want to win. If they win, I think they’re in the tournament. Right now they’re still on the bubble, we’re still playing for something so they’re still playing for something,” Williams said after the game Thursday. “We’re worried about ourselves, take it out on them Friday and get a victory.”
Tipoff Friday is set for 25 minutes after the completion of No. 8 Michigan and Illinois at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.