The basketball Buckeyes picked up a huge win on senior day in the Schott, wrapping up the conference regular season slate with a 10-8 record and on the verge of a 4-seed in next week's B1G tournament if Wisconsin can take care of business at Nebraska tonight.
With the postseason just four days away, let's briefly look at three things that stood out in Aaron Craft's (and Lenzelle Smith Jr.'s) last game in front of the home crowd.
Yes, this kid can be more frustrating that someone using self-checkout that clearly can't even operate a lighter but LaQuinton Ross came up big this afternoon.
Ross poured in 22 points on 9/15 shooting, scoring 32% of the team's points. His effort was overshadowed by Craft-mania but Ohio State obviously loses this game by double digits without Q.
Ross helped keep Ohio State in the game early with 13 points in the 1st half and added nine more in a hotly defended final 20 minutes, points the Buckeyes had to have with OSU 2nd leading scorer on the season, Smith, contributing exactly zero points on just two shots.
Quietly, Ross has 60 points over his last three outings, on 53% shooting no less, earning 27 trips to the stripe in the process. Could he in the midst of a March to remember? His inconsistency makes that far from certain but it's crucial Ohio State's most productive scorer is feeling good now that we're down to nothing but survive-and-advance games.
SHOWING SOME FIGHT
Too many times this season, an opponent has unleashed a big run on the Buckeyes and they haven't had an answer, sometimes showing surprisingly little fight. Today, Ohio State was knocked down by repeated Sparty runs but on this day, they had the mental toughness to regroup and respond.
The first example this afternoon came as Michigan State used an 11-2 run to take a 31-26 lead with a little over five minutes left in the half. The Buckeyes were in the midst of missing nine of 11 shots with a turnover and things were looking shaky.
Instead of packing it in, OSU turned up the defense. Smith grabbed a board and fed Ross for a bucket before the Buckeyes registered three straight steals, netting five points, to cap a 7-0 run putting the good guys back in front, 33-31. Craft was sensational during the sequence as he picked up a loose ball and drove the length of the court to find Ross for an and-1 before Sam Thompson found the senior off a steal of his own for a nifty finish. The run kept OSU close, 38-36, at intermission.
After taking a 44-39 lead five minutes into the 2nd half, Sparty went on another run, this time a 14-2 haymaker, to lead 53-46 with 12:47 left. Again, unfazed by the deficit, the Buckeyes countered with a 12-5 to tie the score at 58 with 8:33 left in regulation.
After a Ross bomb from way downtown gave OSU four quick points, Amir Williams came up with a rare steal leading to a pair of Shannon Scott free throws. A few minutes later, Ross hit again and a Scott steal produced a free throw from Thompson to make it 58-55 bad guys. Craft then got into the act with a sick drive and kick to Thompson for a triple to cap the run.
Coming off back to back losses, it was nice to see the team fight back multiple times after Sparty runs put their backs against the wall. Doing so today set the stage for a final seven minutes of frenetic defense to key the win.
SEVEN MINUTES OF HELL
Down 65-60 after a Payne alley-oop dunk with 6:58 remaining, Ohio State put on an incredible defensive display, closing the game on a 9-2 run, to escape with the 69-67 victory.
Sparked by Craft and Scott out top, the Buckeyes had a hand in forcing Sparty to miss five of their six field goal attempts with five turnovers during the decisive stretch.
After a Williams free throw gave Ohio State a 68-67 lead with :37 left and Payne tried to counter with a triple, Craft made the play of the day as he dove on the floor for the loose rebound and smart enough not to waste a timeout, he let Sparty tie him up for a jump ball since OSU had the possession arrow.
On the final possession of the game, Craft stayed up in the grill of Gary Harris, forcing the miss to secure his 117th win as a Buckeye.