In their first game of the Big Ten tournament, the Ohio State Buckeyes came out strong and defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 88-71. The entire game was positive from a Buckeye fan's view. The team played 40 full minutes, wore down the Purdue defense, made adjustments and took off with just under seven minutes left to play. The entire team made a concerted effort and played with a passion that we have only seen spurts of this season.
Purdue was able to keep the game close in the first half. After being down 10 in the first five minutes of the game, the Boilermakers finally calmed down and began to give Ohio State the fits that they always seem to give the Buckeyes. With 7:14 left to play in the first half, Purdue tied the score for the first time at 24. Ohio State struggled to pull away, but managed to lead 30-24 at the half.
The second half of the game was more of the same from the Buckeyes. Purdue kept the game within reach, although they never took the lead. Part of their ability to keep it close had to do with the officiating after Purdue's head coach Matt Painter got a technical foul for screaming at the refs. Apparently, he felt that Aaron Craft was "hugging" his players on defense. The calls on the court changed a bit after that. With 9:59 left to play, Purdue was down just three. Three minutes later, William Buford took matters into his own hands and put on his offensive hat to get the Buckeyes motivated with a sweet jumper and a foul. Up to that point, Buford had just 2 points. He ended the game with 11.
It was game on after Buford created that play. The rest of the team kicked it up a notch. Their pace increased, they drove to the basket and found Jared Sullinger in the paint. In five minutes, the Buckeyes took a 6 point lead and increased it to 18. With 2:06 left, Thad Matta removed the starters from the court and gave the bench players some time.
William Buford wasn't the only player to have a good night, although he had 11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and a block. Jared Sullinger led the team with 30 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks. Aaron Craft added 10 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. DeShaun Thomas had 22 points and 7 rebounds. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. contributed 11 points, 2 assists and a rebound.
If the stats aren't enough for you, know that there was definitely more to it. Each player who set foot on the court tonight contributed in some way at a key time. Whether it was a much needed basket to maintain the lead and momentum, a block or steal to get the ball back or a quick pass to an open man for an easy bucket. The Ohio State Buckeyes showed better teamwork, more effort and passion than we've seen since the beginning of the season. This is the team we've been waiting for. The team that makes adjustments without being told, the team that follows their instincts and does what is needed when it's needed, the team that has all of its parts working in perfect harmony.
Maybe Ohio State didn't play the way fans wanted them to play for the whole season, or maybe it just took a little more getting used to than what was originally anticipated. Whatever happened during the regular season doesn't matter. They're going to the dance. The Big Ten tournament will only help them get a better seed. But if the Buckeyes play every game the way they played tonight, the way they finished the Michigan State game on Sunday, they will be very tough to beat.
Regular season? Who cares. This team turned it on right when they needed to. They want a championship. They can smell it. And they're going after it. Be sure to tune in to CBS tomorrow at 4:05pm to watch the Buckeyes make mincemeat out of that school up north.
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