It may have taken a last-ditch effort -- and a rewrite or two on this reporter's part -- but Ohio State again survived and advanced in the Big Ten tournament thanks to a 71-67 come-from-behind win over Nebraska on Friday. BuckeyeSports.com's Ben Axelrod breaks down the Buckeyes' latest victory and examines their 18-point second half comeback over the Cornhuskers.
Some final thoughts from Ohio State
's 71-67 Big Ten tournament win over Nebraska
, just as I re-write my story.
"We've been in this position before. I don't know what it is. I don't know what it takes for us to play like that every possession, but for some reason we just kept looking up and saw we had a lot of time left. That's what kept us playing." - Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft
I'm not going to lie, I had my entire "Ohio State loses" story not only written, but set up in the Scout system. Don't believe me? Check it out.
So yeah. And to be honest, it wasn't until LaQuinton Ross hit the two free throws with 58.1 seconds left to put the Buckeyes on top that I rewrote an "Ohio State wins story." Down 18 points with 13:40 left on the clock, a Buckeyes comeback certainly seemed less than likely as we saw just how much it took for Ohio State to get back within striking distance of the Cornhuskers. The Buckeyes did just that and by buzzer's end, a new story sat in the Scout system.
I laughed the notion off on press row -- mainly because my bags were packed for Columbus -- but I do believe that Ross' technical for his third shove of the season was a turning point in Friday's game. Ross' ‘T' came with 14:58 left on the clock and the Buckeyes trailing by a 42-30 margin, but was soon proceeded by a 9-0 run that put Ohio State back in the game.
Like I said, I laughed off the notion of that being a turning point as a fantasy narrative, but Sam Thompson's response when I asked him about it was telling. "We didn't like the physical play. We didn't like that they were jumping around on their bench and dancing on their bench," Thompson told me. "We're still Ohio State. That's a team that's beaten us one time and all the power to them for that win, but we don't feel that they should have that type of confidence against us. I think in the last 12 or so minutes, we did a good job of showing them that."
Thompson's sentiment was backed up by both Craft and Ross, who each agreed that Q's technical was a rallying point for the Buckeyes.
Speakng of Ross, his emotions may be an issue -- how do you shove a player three times in one season? -- but he's been a beast for the Buckeyes these past two weeks. Against Nebraska, he finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, proving himself to be a dominant force on the offensive end. His defense has also gotten better and I can recall one play in particular where he had the awareness to get in on of the Huskers as the shot clock wound down. Ross may never be as consistent or as steady as Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger were, but to deny that his play has been impressive as of late would be absurd.
Ross on his recent play: "It's the month of March, man. I grew up watching this. I grew up watching college sports, especially college basketball knowing one day I hoped to be able play in March Madness and that's what I'm doing now. So I gotta bring my A-game."
In my since-deleted "Nebraska win" story, the first negative for Ohio State I mentioned was its turnovers, but I may have been burying the lead as the Buckeyes were again atrocious from the charity stripe. Ohio State finished the game 17-for-28 from the free throw line, but that number is a bit inflated by the fact that the Buckeyes made their final 10 free throws of the game. Sure, that's a positive that Ohio State's free throw shooting showed up when it mattered most, but my theory that the Buckeyes will be knocked out of The Big Dance thanks to free throws woes continues to gain steam.
Ohio State's press was what got that back into the game, but please stop tweeting at me that the Buckeyes should press for 40 minutes a night. Especially in a tournament setting, that's not a realistic game plan as players get tired and presses aren't always effective. As Craft pointed out to me after the game, the Buckeyes' press was hardly effective against Michigan State and there should be enough trust in Thad Matta by now to know when and where to apply it.
Again sitting behind the Buckeye bench, I was afforded with a deeper than usual look into Ohio State and Matta when his team was down big was a sight to behold. Laying into his squad with an explicative-laden rant, Matta turned a shade of red brighter than his team's jersey, which was reminiscent of his chewing out of Evan Ravenel at Northwestern last season. Whatever it was Matta said -- I can't repeat what I actually heard -- it worked, as Ohio State responded with a 9-0 run in the span of 91 seconds.
I'd be remissed to post an observation piece without mentioning the play of Amedeo Della Valle, who posted an impressive -- if not bizarre -- 12-point, six-rebound, three-block, two-steal stat line. Della Valle appeared to have been phased out of the OSU rotation at the end of the season, but he certainly made his presence felt on Friday while providing an unexpected spark for the Buckeyes.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Michigan is obviously the No. 1 seed in this weekend's tournament and the Buckeyes and Wolverines have had some great battles in this building in years past. Michigan is fighting for a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and could get it with a win on Sunday, but I like the way that Ohio State matches up with a plethora of perimeter defenders to cover the likes of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. With two ugly wins under their belts, the Buckeyes appear to be coming into their own and Saturday's semifinal matchup will certainly give them an opportunity to make a statement. Michigan will be the favorite -- as it should be -- but I think we're in for another classic in Indy.