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Buckeyes ‘just want to win’ at Penn State as Thad Matta approaches Ohio State wins record

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Coach Thad Matta speaks to players during a timeout of a game against Purdue on March 1 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 65-61. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Coach Thad Matta speaks to players during a timeout of a game against Purdue on March 1 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 65-61.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta has 296 wins with the Buckeyes.

The program’s all-time wins leader is Fred Taylor with 297. That means Sam Thompson and his teammates can help their coach tie that record with a win against Penn State on Wednesday night.

But for Thompson, a tie means nothing.

“He is one from tying, right?” the senior forward asked during a Tuesday press conference. “No one wants to tie. No one cares about a tie.”

Thompson explained that the Buckeyes will likely put more focus on the record if they win in State College, Pa., but that’s not the focus going in.

“I’m sure I will think about that more after tomorrow or after the fact,” he said. “But no matter what we do tomorrow, we can’t get the record.”

Matta himself said he hasn’t put much weight on the record, and only even found out he was approaching it when associate strength and conditioning coach Dave Richardson told him “one day in the weight room.”

“Honestly, I haven’t thought about it,” Matta said during the Tuesday press conference. “It’s more in terms of I know this team still has a lot that it has to accomplish, it can accomplish. I think if it happens I may take a deep breath and say, ‘Hey, let me think about what it really means to me.’”

A regular-season Big Ten title isn’t among the things OSU can still accomplish this season, but a higher seed in the conference tournament is. The Buckeyes, who returned to the Associated Press top 25 at No. 23 on Monday, are 21-8 overall, and 10-6 in Big Ten play.

That conference record puts them in a tie for fourth with Iowa and Michigan State, but tiebreakers would make OSU the sixth seed in the Big Ten Tournament, set to begin March 11 in Chicago. Earning a top-four seed would mean the Buckeyes wouldn’t have to start their time in the tournament until the third round.

In order to earn that fourth seed, OSU will likely have to beat Penn State and then win again on Sunday against No. 6 Wisconsin at home.

Thompson said the prospect of getting Matta the OSU wins record doesn’t change anything when it comes to motivation for winning those final two games.

“The goal remains the same,” Thompson said. “That’s beat Penn State tomorrow and beat Wisconsin on Sunday, so there’s no added pressure.”

Thompson’s mindset goes even further than the end of the regular season, as he said he has goals of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

“I have hopes to play in the Final Four, I want to play in the Final Four,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity to play in the Final Four.”

Thompson has been around for 106 of Matta’s OSU wins, and that includes a run to the Final Four in 2012 and a loss in the Elite Eight in 2013.

Matta said he likes to hear that Thompson has his sights set on the Final Four already, but for the 11th-year OSU coach, the goals don’t yet extend beyond Wednesday evening, when the Buckeyes are set to play Penn State at 6 p.m.

“From my perspective, honestly, I just want to win tomorrow night’s game and play as well as we can,” Matta said.

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