Created on Thursday, 07 March 2013 Written by JIM INGRAHAM jingraham@MorningJournal.com @jitribeinsider,writer
When it comes to basketball, the Big Ten this year is 10 miles of bad road.
It’s The Big Boys League. No autopsy, no foul.
Big Ten basketball games are nerve-wracking, jaw-jangling, molar-grinding, eyeball-spinning, retina-rattling, mauling, brawling street fights.
And those are just the games against Penn State.
Tuesday night Ohio State was at Indiana.
This is a bad year to be at Indiana. Indiana is really, really good. Ohio State is not really, really good. On their best nights the Buckeyes are just pretty good.
In the Big Ten pretty good gets you wins against Penn State and Nebraska. Against everyone else, you better bring a crowbar.
Tuesday night the Buckeyes didn’t need a crowbar. They had Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and a whole lot of mental and physical toughness, which paved the way to an improbable 67-58 victory.
The Buckeyes were better than pretty good. They were really, really good.
With the win, Ohio State can still earn a share of the Big Ten title with a win over Illinois in Columbus on Sunday, and an Indiana loss at Michigan, also on Sunday.
In The Big Boy’s League it figures to be Sunday, bloody Sunday.
For the last two months the big boys in the Big Ten have taken turns punching each other in the nose. On any given night anybody can beat anybody — and they frequently do. They are all pretty good teams. A few are really, really good teams.
The one constant is effort and intensity. It’s haymaker basketball at its best.
Tuesday night the Buckeyes played game number eight in slogging their way through an eight-game Big Ten gauntlet of gruesome that left everything in its wake short of body bags and chalk outlines.
Counting Tuesday’s win, in six of its last eight games Ohio State has played: No. 2-ranked Indiana (twice), No. 7 Michigan (twice), No. 10 Michigan State and No. 22 Wisconsin.
That’s like being stuck in a revolving door with a honey badger who just found out he’s not getting an income tax refund.
However, Ohio State went 5-3 through that eight-game meat grinder.
Tuesday night they also raised some questions about exactly how good this Indiana team is.
Skill-wise, the Hoosiers seem to be the most complete team in the Big Ten. They have prototype players at all five spots in their starting lineup: the aircraft carrier in the middle in high-scoring, indefatigable Cody Zeller.
They have the slashing, big-shot sharpshooter at one forward in Christian Watford, a stone-faced do-everything basketball savant, Victor Oladipo, at the other forward.
They have a backcourt of Jordan Hulls, the classic Indiana born and bred gym rat and long-distance marksman, and the quicksilver point guard in Yogi Ferrell.
Ohio State has gunslinger Thomas, who leads the team and the league in scoring, and defensive wizard Craft, who leads the league in floor burns and want-to.
The rest of the Ohio State roster is a mixed-bag of big-name recruits who have had trouble playing to their reputations at the college level.
Guys like Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross have had their moments, but not enough of them to make a difference in enough games, which is necessary for Ohio State to be taken seriously in the NCAA tournament.
Tuesday night, however, the supporting cast offered some big time support, which went a long way towards turning the Hoosiers into losiers.
Indiana won by 13 points in Columbus on February 10, but Tuesday was Tuesday. With Zeller and Oladipo on the bench with two fouls and missing significant minutes, Ohio State made the most of it, carving out a hard-earned three-point halftime lead.
The Buckeyes also showed buckets of toughness in not getting overwhelmed by the emotions and noise coming from the Indiana crowd on senior night.
Indiana came out in the second half and tried to take control of the game. Ohio State wobbled briefly — Indiana didn’t miss a shot for the first 7 ½ minutes of the half — then righted the ship and played big down the stretch.
Craft was dazzling at both ends of the court, running the offense AND the defense, in playing nearly a mistake-free game. He had 15 points and four of everything else: rebounds, assists and steals (four of each).
Thomas missed a lot of shots — 11 of his 17 — but also hit some big ones in scoring 18 points with eight rebounds.
Scott was strong with the ball and had eight points while backup center Evan Ravenel had eight points and six rebounds.
But OSU’s best number was this: playing against the No. 2 team in the country, in the cauldron that is Indiana’s homecourt, the Buckeyes only had seven turnovers. Seven!
That will win you a lot of games in The Big Boys League.