Cody Cousino / Photo editor
INDIANAPOLIS — There was a telling moment late in the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s 77-55 victory against Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament Saturday.
With just less than a minute to play and the Buckeyes leading by 26, freshman center Trey McDonald rose up to grab an offensive rebound and lay it back in. As he did, the entire OSU bench jumped up with him.
The put-back finish represented McDonald’s first career points and the celebration on the bench indicated that his teammates enjoyed the moment just as much as McDonald did.
Although the play had little effect on the outcome of the game, the players’ reaction seemed to characterize how much more together the team is compared to just a couple weeks ago when the Buckeyes were deflated after a 63-60 loss at home to Wisconsin Feb. 26.
“Somebody’s got to step up and just be that guy to say this is enough and bring us all together,” sophomore forward DeShaun Thomas said at the time.
After three consecutive wins and clinching a spot in the conference tournament title game for the third year in a row, the Buckeyes seem to have found some of that unity. Thomas said the newfound support among the players means a lot to the team.
“At the beginning of the season when the second team used to come in we never did that,” he said of the team’s reaction to McDonald’s basket. “But now when Trey came in, it just brings out a spark from him. That’s what I’m talking about. We all just needed to come together.”
“Everybody is just playing together and just playing hard and having fun with each other,” he said.
Coach Thad Matta said he is impressed with how the team has come together since the loss to Wisconsin, although he’s unsure how the increased bond among the team happened.
“I don’t know if I can put my finger exactly on how things have transpired,” he said. “I do think that all good things to take time to develop, and there’s a lot of times in a season where something can happen.
“We have a very good togetherness right now. We’ve got a very good understanding of how we want to play and what we want to do, how we want to do it. Those are the things that we’ve been striving for all season and it’s good to see over the course of the last couple of weeks just the energy and enthusiasm that this team has had.”
The Buckeyes will need to maintain that togetherness and be unselfish to have success going forward, sophomore guard Aaron Craft said.
“It’s just (us) understanding it’s a team game,” he said. “We play our best basketball when we don’t rely on one person to score a lot of points. We’re playing great on the defensive end and everyone’s talking and everyone’s into the game. I think we’re starting to understand that that’s when we’re at our best and that’s what we need to do for however many games we have left to play, just continue to go out there and have fun, be positive with each other and enjoy it.”
OSU will play Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.