With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Ohio State men’s basketball team is in a full sprint toward the finish line.
The Buckeyes have rattled off back-to-back wins at home, including coming back from 12 points down to beat Purdue on Sunday night, 65-61.
The win put the Buckeyes in a three-way tie for fourth in the Big Ten conference and was sparked by freshman sensation, guard D’Angelo Russell.
Russell scored 17 of his 28 points in the second half of the game, and while it looked like the Louisville, Ky., native did most of the heavy lifting, he received ample help from three experienced seniors.
While it might not have always been in the scoring column, center Amir Williams, guard Shannon Scott and forward Sam Thompson all contributed in their own way.
Williams, who took on the Big Ten’s leading shot blocker in Purdue’s junior center A.J. Hammons, matched the 7-footer in rebounds and blocked shots, the last of which helped seal the win for OSU.
While Williams has been known to be inconsistent at times, Matta said he was pleased with how his senior played against the Boilermakers.
“I thought Amir, with three blocked shots, was as good as he could be,” Matta said after the game.
Then came Scott, who has become known for his defense more than anything in his four years in Columbus. While he didn’t light up the scoreboard against the Boilermakers, recording just one assist, block and steal each, it was what didn’t show up on the stat sheet that impressed his coach.
“Shannon, nobody would ever see it, but he did some things defensively tonight via scouting that was tremendous and really disrupted them,” Matta said.
Scott scored just five points in the win, all coming at the free throw line, three of which came in the final minute to help seal the Buckeye win.
Finally there was Thompson, who recorded 14 points in the win while hitting all six of his free throws, three per half.
With games against Penn State and Wisconsin remaining before the start of the Big Ten Tournament, Thompson said his performance and the win were important moving forward.
“This is the type of win we need to get, especially in the month of March,” Thompson said. “It’s too late for us to be taking steps backwards, and it’s our time to hit our stride, get going and to put together a run.”
While Russell still is stealing the show, ranking second in the conference in scoring, he credited his fellow Buckeyes for the team’s success after the win.
“My coaches put me in a great position to facilitate for my teammates,” Russell said. “Coaches kept running the same play, and we kept making the best out of it.”
And although Russell hasn’t yet played in a postseason basketball game in his college career like most of his teammates have, he said he has already gotten a taste of things to come and wants more of it.
“I could get used to this. This is great,” Russell said. “Every win counts and any win can trigger a run, and just getting this win on our home court is great going down to Penn State.”
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are set to tip off at 6 p.m. Wednesday in State College, Pa. OSU won the first matchup between the two teams, 75-55, Feb. 11 in Columbus.