For Ohio State to be successful as they attempt to nail down a spot in the NCAA Tournament while playing in the Big Ten tournament, the biggest key might be in doing one thing with the basketball: driving, driving, driving.
As the Buckeyes have pulled out two big wins in the final week of the regular season that have put them on the cusp of being selected for postseason play, they have done so largely due to a newfound ability to attack the basket. In wins against both Purdue and Michigan State, OSU began relying more on getting the ball into the hands of guys like Evan Turner and David Lighty and allowing them to make plays.
For arguably the first time all year, the result was an offensive that looked to have a flow to it. Suddenly a team that had been living and dying – mostly dying – with the three-pointer was creating open shots and giving opposing coaches fits.
"As the game went on I just through they whipped us off the dribble," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. "I take responsibility for it because they just drove by us. I don't know what to tell you."
In the team's 80-77 overtime victory against Purdue, the Buckeyes got 15 points from Turner, who went 5 of 11 from the floor. With 25.8 seconds remaining, the freshman guard drove the basket and connected to push OSU's lead to four points, helping effectively seal Purdue's doom. All of his points came in the second half as the Buckeyes headed to the locker room trailing by three points.
Afterward, Painter credited Turner for helping turn the game in OSU's favor.
Five days later, the Buckeyes again rallied from a second-half deficit thanks to their ability to get to the rim. This time, it was Lighty who finished with 12 points against Michigan State – the most points for him in one game since he put up the same total against Michigan on Feb. 5.
Between Turner and Lighty, the Buckeyes appear to have a formidable duo who can make things happen on offense. The question is, where have they been all season?
According to OSU head coach Thad Matta, the two players have been working on simply gathering a better handle on the basketball throughout the course of the season. It is only recently that they have progressed to the point where they can become go-to threats during games.
"We do as much ballhandling stuff as we can possibly do," he said. "It's how we open up every practice and how we try to get those guys more comfortable with their handle."
Lighty credited a drill they do every day where the coaching staff will wait for players under the basket while brandishing big blocking pads. If the Buckeyes miss the layup, they have to run as punishment.
"It's kind of like a football drill," he said. "It's fun and it's funny at the same time, but it does help us out for the games because they don't call fouls in the Big Ten."
The Buckeyes are not fully there already, however. Turner finished with three points and missed five of his six shots from the field against the Spartans, but Lighty was there to pick up the slack.
The ability to drive the basketball has also opened up things for OSU's primary sharpshooter in Jamar Butler to take advantage. The Buckeyes have gone 10 for 29 (34.4 percent) from deep in their last two games, but their average of 14.5 attempts per game is well below the team's average of 20.7 through the first 29 games of the year.
The message is simple: When OSU is able to get to the basket the team has to rely less on three-pointers, and when they do they are often better looks.
"Evan and Dave are out there penetrating and drawing the defense," said Butler, who hit 5 of 6 treys against the Boilermakers. "I think it opens up things on the perimeter. You have to know how to move without the ball and coach has been doing a great job of putting us in situations to get us to move off the ball to get open."
The task now is to make sure that the Buckeyes continue to find ways to get to the basket. With confidence riding high as the team is enjoying a two-game winning streak, OSU will have to continue to find ways to drive the basketball in order to have continued success in the postseason.
According to Lighty, that is the attitude the team has.
"I'd say it's just our mindset," he said. "We're trying to be aggressive and just play basketball. All everybody's trying to do is get to the hole and dunk or something like that. That's just our style of play. I think we're just being more aggressive and attacking."