Winning in Bloomington... Check!
Winning in East Lansing... Check!
Winning in Columbus... Check!
Who knew that we would win at those places, but we would lose in Evanston this year? This was a statement win in a season full of statement wins. This team continues to go in and get wins in places that have been very hard for us to play in lately, all while playing together as a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Now add to that the fact we won all three of those in a four game stretch. I think that means we have earned Saturday's home game against Illinois.
You readers have been wonderful about playing off of a typo. I think it was against Indiana, but someone mentioned that we exercised (sic) the demons of Assembly Hall. Since then, you all have been about sending demons to the gym to exercise them because we did it at the Breslin Center and the Schottenstein Center. To doublegoldandblack, who asked what streaks we need to end next so we can warm up the treadmill, I can see three:
14 years since a Big Ten Regular Season title
30 years since a Final Four
78 years since a National Championship.
Let's do this.
Positives from the second Ohio State game:
JaJuan Johnson - He played like a man today. Scratch that, he played like several men. Dallas Lauderdale was reduced to nothing by JJ's versatility. If we needed a basket, we went to JJ. The play of the game may have been right before halftime. On a missed shot Evan Turner waited for the rebound. JJ came in, grabbed it, put it back in, and was fouled for a huge 3-point play. That's how a man goes to work. If this is the JJ we're getting the rest of the season we will be playing for a very long time.
Keaton Grant - We don't win if Keaton Grant does not play like he did tonight. Period. When Robbie was virtually a non-factor all night, Keaton played his best game of the season. He tied his season high for points, though it was previously against SIU-Edwardsville, so there is a slight difference in competition. I knew he had a game like this in him. It was about time he delivered. If he can keep it up, we just got better as a team.
Chris Kramer - Once again, we needed a Kramer Moment at the end of a game and got it. This was almost exactly like the Indiana game. I am surprised that Ohio State didn't call a timeout some time during the last possession, but I won't argue the point. As usual, Kramer had a couple of big baskets and one absolutely huge defensive play. I am wondering why he kept losing the dribble on drives though. He had at least three possessions where he had an easy layup, but lost the dribble on the drive.
Robbie Hummel - You may ask why he is mentioned here when he had a season low game in scoring. All four points were huge though, keeping his trend of doing all the little things quietly. He had a night where he didn't do much statistically, but then you look deeper and see he was absolutely huge in each spot he contributed. Maybe this is what Hutchens meant by calling him a role player.
Defense - One of the biggest keys to tonight's game was bench play. Ohio State only went one player into its bench for nine minutes. Kyle Madsen didn't even take a shot, either. When they had the ball down only two for consecutive possessions they missed two jumpers, possibly as a result of tired legs. We made them work for everything defensively. That wore them down to where their jumpers did not have the same lift in the last five minutes. In reality, their only offense tonight was "give the ball to Turner and let him create." It worked, but not well enough.
Sharing the basketball - 15 assists on 24 field goals. Most were on great passes where we made it a point to find the open man for an easier shot. E'Twaun had five of these assists as he added a quiet 15 points. It should also be mentioned E'Twaun had another dagger of a 3-pointer early in the second half when they left him open.
Rebounding - Offensive rebounds were huge for Ohio State in the first game. Turner was especially dangerous off the offensive glass in that one, but tonight we won the rebounding battle overall and held them to four second chances.
The First half - That's two straight games where our first half start has been absolutely critical on the road. We only have to do it two more times before the rest of the season is home games or neutral courts. If we keep it up, there's also a good chance we can put the black jerseys away for the year too, if you catch my drift.
Negatives from the second Ohio State game:
Turnovers - If we had taken care of the ball tonight, things would have been a lot better. I credit Ohio State though for pressuring the ball and forcing us into many of those 16 turnovers. If they had been able to hit a few more shots once they got the lead to two it would have been really interesting. This is a continuing theme in road games for us. The home team gets it close, but then goes cold as we hit big shot after big shot.
Defending Evan Turner - The kid is a talent. Now, let's never play him again.
Jon Diebler - The wrist was fine on that last shot. He had a good look. We're lucky he missed.
Kelsey Barlow - The freshman regressed slightly after several good games, so this is only a small negative. He started becoming a liability in the second half, so we simply went to someone else. He will learn from games like this.
Unless we lose at a struggling Minnesota team next week, the Big Ten title will go through West Lafayette. I know I am discounting the regular season finale at Penn State, but I doubt anyone seriously thinks we will lose that game. That includes Penn State fans. I know anything can happen though, so let's not get too ahead of ourselves.
It's hard not to get excited about the future though, and we can get even more excited with each passing win. You have to like our chances for a number one seed if we can win the conference regular season crown. Right now we are the only team in the country with four wins over top 10 teams. Three of those wins have come away from Mackey Arena as well. We can still add yet another one if Michigan State gets back into the top 10 in the next 10 days.
We still have to look at these next five games one by one, because looking ahead can be dangerous. Illinois is next, and they are more than capable of beating us in Mackey Arena. They did a year ago to start the conference season, digging us a nice hole before the race even started. As great as this win was, it means nothing if we lose the next game. All we did tonight was clinch a winning record in Big Ten play.
Still, the special season is still alive. It has been a hell of a ride so far and I cannot wait to see what is next.