The will or drive of a team is rooted in self belief. Without a belief or a vision, a team cannot achieve its goals.
For a while, the Ohio State men’s basketball team didn’t have a vision, it didn’t have a moment that could spring a successful run as the season grows nye. Well, now OSU has both.
The Buckeyes handily defeated the 16th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers at home Thursday night, 83-73, in their most complete game this season. Four players were in double figures, the bench scored 32 points and as a team, OSU outrebounded the Badgers by 13 and shot 63 percent (10-for-16) from 3-point range.
All of that happened against the fourth best defense in the country.
The players — sophomore guard C.J. Jackson in particular, who had a career-high 18 points Thursday — had been saying throughout a mentally taxing conference season that they believed there run of consecutive wins was just around the corner.
Wisconsin might be the start of that, but that doesn’t necessarily mean OSU’s predicament has changed. The Buckeyes will likely still need to win the Big Ten tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, but at the very least, OSU finally has proof it can win games against top competition.
“I feel like everybody was on the same page (on Thursday). We played hard. It seemed like we couldn’t miss,” junior forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “If we play like this the rest of the time and in the Big Ten tournament, I feel like we can win.”
That type of language hadn’t been heard since the beginning of the season when winning the conference was seen as an attainable goal. Yes, the Buckeyes said things like, “There’s still a long way to go,” and “Anything can happen” after losses, but maybe what OSU needed was the reality of winning a game that many didn’t believe it had a prayer in.
So it begs the question, why can’t OSU always play like this?
“I wish we could (always play like this) and for now on I hope we can,” Tate said. “We just got to build from it.”
The game was equally important for OSU coach Thad Matta, who has been dealt an unprecedented amount of criticism this year. The 13-year OSU coach was already the most winningest coach in school history and became the most tenured coach in school history on Thursday night.
He has not been one to ever focus, or truly care, about what outsiders say, but there’s no denying that critics will think twice about scolding the 13-year OSU coach after the Wisconsin win.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people that wouldn’t be pissed off if I didn’t come back (tomorrow),” Matta said. “But I say that from a standpoint of I guess that’s a tremendous feat, but I kind of like the most wins more than the most games to be honest with you.”
While nothing on the winning side has come naturally to the Buckeyes this season, they had the answers on Thursday night. Each answer paved the path to success. There remains a long way to go for them, but the Buckeyes saw what their best looks like and that could be a motivator with two games remaining before the conference tournament.
“We haven’t seen it a whole lot,” Matta said. “Everybody sort of did there part. When you’re making shots, it probably helps your cause … I hope these guys got a good taste of what it feels like to win a game.”