Driven Buckeyes Ready For Purdue

What seemed all but impossible two weeks now has become reality as Ohio State will face Purdue for the Big Ten tournament championship. Trying to explain their play in the last two games, the Buckeyes have credited one thing: They are not ready to go home without bringing along a trophy.

INDIANAPOLIS – Dallas Lauderdale has pointed to one key reason for his own improved play through two games in the Big Ten tournament.

"We don't want to go home," the sophomore center said after Ohio State's semifinal win against Michigan State. "That's what I was telling my teammates yesterday: I'm not ready to go home. I'm not ready to go to Columbus yet. We came here to win games and try to go home with a ring. That's what we're going to do."

After victories against Wisconsin and the Spartans on back-to-back days, the Buckeyes now find themselves 40 minutes away from a third conference tournament championship. Next on the slate is a Purdue team that split with the Buckeyes this year but more recently got the better of them, handing them a 25-point loss on the final day of February that seemingly had OSU headed out of the NCAA Tournament.

A little more than two weeks later, the Buckeyes enter the contest (3:30 p.m., CBS) riding a four-game winning streak and buoyed with a newfound sense of confidence that stems from one key fact: they are not happy with simply competing in the league tournament.

They are in it to win it, and that desire has taken precedent over all other thoughts.

"Win a ring," junior guard P.J. Hill said when asked what was most on his mind after the victory against Michigan State. "That's our one goal, not to avenge losses we have lost or not to knock the No. 1 seed out of there. It's just to win a ring. That's our goal."

However, those other accomplishments have the Buckeyes pointed toward achieving their primary goal. OSU lost the lone regular-season contest with Wisconsin in prime-time on national television and was swept by the Spartans, who rallied from a 12-point deficit Jan. 25 to beat the Buckeyes on their home court.

The Buckeyes have gotten greater contributions from across the board throughout the tournament, and Lauderdale attributed that fact to the realization that a loss now sends them back home while other teams will keep playing.

After being a virtual non-factor for large parts of the season, Lauderdale has averaged 7.5 points and 2.5 blocks in the last two games. It has been a glimpse of the ability the sophomore work in progress has flashed throughout the season but has been unable to maintain.

"I've got to play consistent throughout the whole year," he said. "It all boils down to I'm not ready to go home yet, so I'm going to do what I can to keep us winning games."

Head coach Thad Matta has historically had his teams peaking at the right part of the season. Last year, they peaked too late and found themselves in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament. They did eventually peak, however, and ran off five straight wins to capture the tournament championship in Madison Square Garden.

When the calendar turns to March, the finality of the season starts to weigh on players, he said.

"It's funny because in a college basketball season the goal is keep getting better," he said. "You make it through the month of February and March becomes the exciting time for a player and the ‘lose, go home' mentality."

This year, sophomore guard Jon Diebler said he feels the team is finally peaking across the board at the right time.

"It's been great how we've done it as a group, as a unit," he said. "We beat some quality teams. We feel confident with where we're at."

Matta and his players alike agreed that there remain plenty of things to work on. The coach said the Buckeyes threw away eight points in the first half alone with careless turnovers in transition, while sophomore swingman Evan Turner said the defense did not always rotate quickly enough and allowed the Spartans to drive at times.

The task now becomes trying to iron out those problems while continuing to play at the high level the Buckeyes have shown they can play at in these last two games.

"We're a streaky team," Lauderdale said. "People are sleeping on us, but we'll keep playing hard, keep playing the Ohio State way and hopefully good things will keep happening."

As for the suggestion that Lauderdale's recent success could peg some to label him "Mr. March," he had another idea.

"I don't know about that," he said. "I'm just ‘Mr. I-don't-want-to-go-home.' How about that?"

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