Buckeyes Back To The Road

Ohio State's early-season schedule did it no favors in the Big Ten race, but the Buckeyes have still managed to right their ship and get back into the hunt for a Big Ten title. Now in order to stay in the race, they will have to successfully navigate another tough road stretch starting with tonight's game at Indiana.

Ohio State has been down this road before.

Starting with tonight's road contest at Indiana (6:30, Big Ten Network), the Buckeyes will play four of their next five games away from the friendly confines of Value City Arena – and they have been friendly. This year's OSU team is perfect in 15 home games this season, accounting for all but three victories.

But taking to the road is how the Buckeyes got Big Ten play going. Starting with a Dec. 31 road contest against Wisconsin, OSU played four of its first five conference games on the road and managed to go 2-3 during the stretch by stealing a road victory against then-No. 6 Purdue in the final game of the stanza.

It made for some dark days early in the season as a team expected to contend for a Big Ten title found itself in the bottom fourth of the league. Now, with a win against the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes can continue to put pressure on the other teams at the top of the league standings.

For that, the team has head coach Thad Matta's dogged single-mindedness to thank.

"This is about us," Matta said. "It's getting our guys to understand the mental approach that we take (everywhere). There's an objective at the end that we have to get accomplished and if we do that, hopefully we're going to play good basketball."

It sounds easier said than done, particularly with the early stretch OSU had to face. Its first four road games within the conference were against Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue – four teams with a combined record of 62-30 (67.4 percent).

The Buckeyes needed a career night from junior Evan Turner against the Boilermakers – 32 points, 23 of which came in the second half – to prevent going 1-4 in conference play.

Including the Purdue game, OSU brings a seven-game winning streak to Bloomington. The only other road win in that stretch was a Jan. 27 victory at Iowa.

"On our road games, I think we've shown in spurts when we're focused and have our minds right we can beat anybody," junior guard David Lighty said. "It's about doing it for 40 minutes. When we do that, I don't think a lot of teams can beat us."

The conventional wisdom is that a team must hold serve at home and split on the road to have a chance to contend for the league crown. With three league road losses under their belts, the Buckeyes do not have much of a margin for error.

"You keep the big picture in mind of what we're trying to get accomplished and that is playing our best basketball as we continue to move forward," Matta said. "We've got smart guys. They've got an appreciation and a respect for any team they're going to play in this league. There's a certain bar that we have to jump over every day."

Although four of the team's next five games are on the road, they are not against a Murder's Row of opponents. Indiana sits ninth in the conference at 3-7 and 9-13 overall, while OSU's Feb. 24 opponent – Penn State – is dead last at 0-11 in Big Ten play and 8-15 overall.

Tonight's game comes after the Buckeyes have beaten Iowa and Penn State in their last two games – the two teams at the bottom of the league standings. Rather than view the situation as a grind, junior center Dallas Lauderdale said he and his teammates are embracing it.

"During this time of the year all the times we don't feel like getting up and going to practice, don't feel like going to film or doing extra skill workouts, it will all be worth it when you put the (championship) ring on your finger," he said. "These are the times we have to push through.

"These are the fun times for our team. I don't see anybody getting week. Spirits are high and it's not really fazing us. We're just trying to keep winning."

The other two teams on this road trip present formidable challenges, however. OSU will play Sunday at Illinois and at Michigan State one week later. Both teams are ranked among the top five in the league and could make the NCAA Tournament.

For now, though, there is no talk of those games in Columbus. Matta's talk of the next practice, next meeting and next game does not allow for looking ahead.

"It is fun, because every game counts when you have so many teams within one game of each other," Lighty said. "You've got to work that much harder because if you do lose that could be the difference in the Big Ten."

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