Cody Cousino / Asst. Multimedia Editor
The Ohio State men’s basketball team set a goal at the beginning of the season to win the Big Ten title outright. With a win Sunday at the Schottenstein Center, the Buckeyes (28-2, 15-2 Big Ten) would achieve that goal, and they’d do it against a school that has been a thorn in the side of OSU sports fans for months: No. 10 Wisconsin (22-6, 12-4 Big Ten).
A win Sunday would not only secure the outright Big Ten title, but also lock up a No. 1 seed for the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament. If OSU loses and Purdue wins its last game, the Boilermakers would be the top seed by virtue of their 1-1 record against the Badgers.
The Buckeyes are headed into their final regular-season game with some momentum, coming off Jon Diebler’s 3-point-record-setting performance against Penn State on Tuesday.
Seniors say goodbye
For senior forward Dallas Lauderdale, senior guards Diebler and Eddie Days and fifth-year senior forward David Lighty, this is the last hurrah. Lauderdale, Diebler and Lighty were part of the first class Thad Matta and his coaching staff recruited and had the ability to see through to the end.
“I think Senior Day is always, for a moment, a little bit emotional,” Matta said. “Once it’s over and they break center court, it’s back to business as usual.”
There most likely will be a plethora of emotions and applause emanating from the stands thanks to the Buckeye faithful, but Matta isn’t concerned about the players losing their focus or letting the moment overcome them.
“I think these guys have a maturity about them; they know we’ve got a tremendous challenge right around the corner after they go through the ceremony,” Matta said. “I think from that standpoint, they’ll be ready to play.”
Still, Matta said he wants his guys to enjoy the moment while it lasts.
“As I told our players after the Penn State game,” he said, “I think going home on Sunday will probably be maybe the greatest environment they’ve ever played in.”
For the second time this season, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the country headed into a game against the Badgers. OSU lost the first game, 71-67, in part because of Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor’s 27-point performance.
“I think that Wisconsin has a great point guard, one of the best in the country,” Matta said. “They have two bigs that can step out and shoot, but they can also post you up. … You’re just playing a really, really sound basketball team.”
At one point during their last meeting, the Buckeyes extended their lead to 15 in the second half. Then, the Badgers started using a pick-and-pop offense that freed up their shooters and led to a surplus of points from beyond the arc.
“(Wisconsin) extended their shooting range against us,” Matta said. “We’ve got to push up a little bit higher and challenge shots a lot better than we did in that game.”
The Badgers have won seven of their last eight games, with their loss coming against Purdue on Feb. 16.
Molded in his image
When the Buckeyes visited the Kohl Center on Feb. 12, the Wisconsin fans in the stands rushed the court after their team’s triumph that evening. In the ensuing fracas, a fan might or might not have spit on freshman forward Jared Sullinger.
Accusations and stories followed about what took place after the game. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said in a teleconference: “All I know is we won the game. Deal with it.”
Still, Matta stressed that the incidents weren’t the driving force behind the team’s desire to win.
“I think the biggest motivating factor for this is winning basketball games and playing as well as they possibly can,” Matta said. “And I honestly think that they kind of follow my lead and my approach to each game.
“From that standpoint it’s like, ‘Hey, this is a team that’s beaten us, and we have to play better than we did the last time we played them.'”
OSU and Wisconsin are scheduled to tip off at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Schottenstein Center.