BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — No. 16 Ohio State didn’t need a victory at Indiana for its regular season to be a success. It didn’t need a Big Ten regular-season championship — although the team would gladly take that — to make itself one of the most surprising stories of the college basketball season.
The Buckeyes did need a win at Indiana, however, to prove that their story wasn’t going to end after 31 games. With Friday’s result, it might just be merely turning to a memorable epilogue.
Ohio State capped off a 24-7 overall record and 15-3 conference record with an 80-78 victory in a sensational double-overtime thriller that ended with a 24-foot 3-pointer from junior guard C.J. Jackson with 1.6 seconds remaining.
The Buckeyes had won in dramatic fashion on the road earlier this season, when it shocked then-No. 3 Purdue to end its 19-game winning streak on Feb. 7. But with recent losses to Penn State and Michigan, also on the road, they needed to return to the euphoria of that moment.
They needed their Big Ten and national player of the year candidate Keita Bates-Diop to return to his scoring prowess and capture momentum with a dramatic victory, for both will be needed in the next phase of the season — tournament play.
“The biggest thing is how you’re playing, how healthy are you and what’s the spirit of your team,” Holtmann said. “Sometimes we can’t control the way the schedule falls late, so that’s the most important thing is how are we playing win or lose. So we do have to get better in some areas, but it is nice to cap off a regular season — 15 wins, unbelievable. So it’s nice to cap that off.”
Bates-Diop scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for his first double-double in five games and first 20-point game in six games. He had rebounds late that limited potential go-ahead possessions for Indiana to just one shot and made multiple clutch shots, including a layup with 58 seconds left in double overtime to put Ohio State ahead 77-76.
Even more important moving forward, the plays the Buckeyes needed to make came from several players, especially redshirt senior guard Kam Williams who scored 15 points in his first game back as a starter since his midseason suspension. For multiple guys to score and provide quality minutes, it’s a relief for a team that won’t overwhelm any opponent with athleticism, size or guard play.
“I’ve been struggling the last few games, but tonight I got back into a rhythm,” Bates-Diop said. “It was really a team effort out there. We had a lot of assists. I don’t know how many, but it was a great team win.”
They had 16.
Ohio State rebounded from its two road losses and losing control of the outright conference title by demolishing the worst team in the conference Tuesday night on an emotional Senior Night. Albeit important, winning at Indiana for the first time since 2013 would be more of an achievement for a team that hadn’t achieved much of anything until this season.
“At the end of the day, being able to stay with it and give ourselves a chance late — C.J. made a heck of an instinctive play, and it is something we practice — but the kid deserves credit for the shot because that was a deep 3,” Holtmann said. “It’s been an unbelievable way to cap an unbelievable regular season.”
Let’s say that shot hadn’t fallen, Ohio State had lost its third game in four days, had no shot at a share of the conference title and Bates-Diop had a mediocre performance. For a team that has rode an emotional high since late December, it’s difficult to think that wouldn’t affect the spirit of a team had the ball hit the rim and not the net.
But the Buckeyes don’t have to think about that because the shot did fall.
Swish. 3 points. Game over.
The win doesn’t validate Ohio State as one of the nation’s top teams. After all, Indiana is not an NCAA Tournament team. However, the win in a hostile environment on the last possession does serve as an indicator that the Buckeyes aren’t content with what was accomplished in 31 games.
They want to write another chapter.