One is the magic number for the Ohio State men’s basketball team ahead of a date with Michigan.
The No. 24 Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5) have gone one full week without playing a game, have one game left before returning to Columbus for consecutive home games for the first time since January and they sit one slot away from a top-four spot in the Big Ten.
Senior guard Shannon Scott said earning a top-four finish in the regular season would be huge heading into postseason play, but added the Buckeyes won’t let that weigh on their minds.
“We know we want to be a top-four team so we can get a bye for the Big Ten Tournament, but we don’t think about that as we play,” Scott said Saturday. “We just want to play our best basketball.”
With its fate not firmly in its own hands, OSU is set to take on the Wolverines (13-13, 6-8) on Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich., while sitting a full game out of fourth place. The team one spot ahead is Michigan State (18-8, 9-4), and the Spartans happen to be the Buckeyes’ most recent opponent.
That Valentine’s Day matchup ended in a 59-56 Michigan State win in East Lansing, Mich., after the Spartans knocked down a late 3-pointer. Scott said the loss wasn’t from a lack of effort, but added that the Buckeyes can’t let it affect them going forward.
“We played hard that game, they just made one more shot than us basically,” he said. “But we know we can’t take a step back though — this league’s gonna be tough no matter where we go.”
Scott said OSU coach Thad Matta gave his players “a couple days off” since the Michigan State game, but noted the Buckeyes have been active in practice all week.
“We made sure we didn’t lose a step in our game and came out and tried to stay as conditioned as possible,” he said.
Matta agreed that the energy has been high in practice, which he didn’t necessarily expect.
“We’ve had a tremendous week of practice,” Matta said Saturday. “I’ve been shocked at their energy and the kind of fire they’ve had in practice.”
While the Buckeyes will have had eight days to prepare when their game tips off at 1 p.m. Sunday, they’ll be on the road for the fourth time in their past five games. Throughout the season, road games have been OSU’s kryptonite as the Buckeyes are 3-6 away from home.
As OSU gets ready for yet another road trip, Matta noted that redshirt-senior forward Anthony Lee won’t be able to play against the Wolverines, but added that sophomore forward Marc Loving could see an increased role after the bye week.
After the matchup with Michigan, OSU is set to take on Nebraska at the Schottenstein Center on Feb. 26 before facing Purdue, Penn State and Wisconsin in the final three games of the regular season.
While OSU has work to do before earning a bye week at the Big Ten Tournament, Scott said he’s hopeful the Buckeyes still have a lot of room to improve.
“We still have a lot of great basketball left in us,” he said. “It’s coming down to the end of the year where we gotta pick it up, but I feel like as a team we still have a lot to do and a lot to prove, so I’m happy about that.”