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Win over Purdue a ‘step in the right direction’ for Ohio State as it enters month of March

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Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta has never lost a game at home in the month of March.

And he doesn’t seem to care.

“We got what, one more left at home? What’s my road record, because we have one on the road before that?” Matta asked after a 65-61 comeback win over Purdue on Sunday night.

The Buckeyes, despite falling behind by 12 points in the first half, polished off the comeback at home in front of 15,978 at the Schottenstein Center.

The win puts OSU in a three-way tie for the fourth seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which is set to begin March 11 in Chicago. If the season was over, tiebreakers would make the Buckeyes the sixth seed in the tournament, keeping them from the double-bye rewarded to the top four teams in the conference.

But with two games remaining to close out the regular season — one against Penn State on the road and the other against Wisconsin at home — Matta said he hasn’t paid any attention to where his team is seeded.

“For a million dollars, I couldn’t tell you who we are in a tie with, that’s how much I follow it,” Matta said. “I’ll be honest with you, 15 years as a head coach, I’ve never thought about the conference tournament and I won’t think about it till Sunday when the season is over. My focus is on getting these guys ready to go on Wednesday night.”

While Matta might not know, OSU is in a tie with the Michigan State Spartans and Iowa Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes put up  a combined 0-3 record against the two teams this season.

However, Matta said coming back to beat Purdue on its home floor was a big step in the right direction heading into the home stretch.

“You’ve got to find ways to win basketball games, you have to make plays, and I think guys did a good job of that,” Matta said. “We were fortunate to get back in it.”

Playing a huge part in Sunday’s win was freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, who said he is excited about the way the Buckeyes are playing as they close out the regular season.

“I could get used to this. This is great. Coach preached in shootaround, ‘It’s March, and it’s here,’” 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.”

Senior forward Sam Thompson, who scored nine of his 14 points in the second half in the win over Purdue, agreed with his younger teammate.

“This is the type of win we need to get, especially in the month of March,” Thompson said. “This is a step in the right direction, so we need to have a good day of practice and take care of business on Wednesday.”

The Buckeyes defeated the Nittany Lions on Feb. 11 by 20 points at home, but fell in State College, Pa., last season, 65-63, marking Matta’s second loss to Penn State in his career at OSU.

After the one-game road trip, the Buckeyes are set to return home for senior day and take on Wisconsin on Sunday. The Badgers currently sit at No. 5 in the country and have lost just two Big Ten games this season, against Maryland and Rutgers.

Russell, who has not yet experienced March Madness, perhaps summarized the Buckeyes’ position in one sentence as he left the postgame podium.

“We’re making our strides forward, and there’s no room to go backwards,” he said.

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