When Ohio State defeated Purdue on Wednesday night, it meant the Buckeyes put themselves in the driver's seat for the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Ten conference tournament, but still needed some help to win the conference outright.
It got that help on Saturday when Michigan State knocked off the Boilermakers, 68-65 in East Lansing, Mich., which left Ohio State alone atop the conference standings after the Buckeyes romped over Iowa, 82-64, just hours later.
With four to play, Ohio State effectively has a two-game lead in the conference standings due to the nature of head-to-head tie-breakers over Michigan State and Purdue.
Just like we all imagined when Chris Holtmann was hired. pic.twitter.com/RA5ReaaCAX
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) February 11, 2018
By now, the stories have been written about how surprising Ohio State's current run is, and has been all year. As is well-documented, the Buckeyes were picked to finish outside the top 10 in the conference entering the year, a fact that is not lost on those within the Schottenstein Center, including sophomore Micah Potter.
"We keep in mind where we were picked in the preseason. A lot of times, Coach will bring that up," Potter said following a 10-point, five-rebound performance against the Hawkeyes. "Today, he talked about how Iowa was ranked seven spots ahead of us in the preseason. That is always motivation for us. We know how much we've been doubted all year, and we are trying to prove people wrong."
Without question, the Buckeyes have proven just about everybody in the country wrong with their play this season. Ohio State is a near half-court buzzer-beater away from possibly being undefeated in conference play, and currently sits alone at the top of the Big Ten, a league that as of Saturday night still featured two top-five teams that were not OSU.
Head coach Chris Holtmann, who has put his name in the hat for national coach of the year, said following the Iowa victory that he didn't even know who won the battle between Michigan State and Purdue, keeping the tunnel vision he has preached to his players all season. He did, however, acknowledge that he briefly discussed the Big Ten title talks with his team following the upset win over Purdue on Wednesday, before maintaining that Ohio State's focus will remain game-to-game as the regular season winds down.
"We did talk a little bit about the Big Ten after the Purdue game. Just the elephant in the room. Put this to bed because we have a really difficult, challenging stretch ahead of us, but there is nothing wrong with having goals," Holtmann said. "The responsibility for us is to improve and get better and continue to improve each and every day. We just said that and kind of quickly put it to bed."
Ohio State's final four regular season games of the year feature three road games, including the Buckeyes' next tilt against Penn State on Feb. 15, the only team in league play to knock off Holtmann's squad this year.
If Holtmann isn't using a possible Big Ten title as motivation, perhaps Ohio State will use the revenge factor as motivation to continue its success, especially against the Nittany Lions. Freshman center Kaleb Wesson, who scored 18 points against Iowa on Saturday, said the heartbreaking loss against Penn State is still on his mind.
"It's there for sure. It's definitely there," he said.
Ohio State should have starting point guard C.J. Jackson back for the matchup against Penn State as well. Jackson left the win over Iowa with what Holtmann confirmed were cramps. He did not return to the game, but finished with 14 points, his best scoring output since Jan. 11, when he scored 14 in a win over Maryland.
Tip against the Nittany Lions is set for 8 p.m. on Thursday night, before the Buckeyes take to Ann Arbor to play Michigan the following Sunday.