On the stat sheet, it doesn't look like much at all - just a random bucket in the middle of a perfectly good blowout in the Big Ten Tournament. But, without a doubt, of the 42 three-pointers that Ross made during this season, it was this particular basket that was by far the most important.
Leading up to the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes had been on a roller coaster of a season, only it wasn't one of those modern, metal behemoth coasters that we all know and love. No, this was a rickety, old, made-of-probably-rotted-wood coasters that provides a more uneven ride than your typical drive down the streets of German Village in Columbus. After a 15-game winning streak to start the year, Ohio State went into an up-and-down series of peaks and valleys that, at its best was remarkable, and at its worst was downright awful.
The Buckeyes won 15 games in a row to start the season. The lost four straight. Then Ohio State won consecutive road games against ranked foes (#14 Wisconsin, and #17 Iowa, both NCAA tournament teams). Then it lost to Michigan at home on national television. Then three more wins in a row. Followed by consecutive losses against Penn State (an unthinkable season sweep for the Nittany Lions) and Indiana (a team that turned down an invite to the freaking CBI). Then came a win against eventual Big Ten Tournament Champion Michigan State in the regular season finale. Followed by a nail-biting win-that-shouldn't-have-been against a dreadful Purdue team.
The Purdue win meant the Buckeyes had a date with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a team Ohio State had previously beaten by 31 points and, in true to form fashion, a team that also beat Ohio State by a six-point margin. The weird rubber match seemed likely to be the defining game for this iteration of Buckeye Basketball and, much like the season that preceded it, was rife with issues.
Down by three at the half, the Buckeyes would sit and watch Nebraska increase its lead over the first 6:30 of the second half. The lone Ohio State bucket, a jumper by Ross, brought the Buckeyes to 30 points for the game, while Nebraska rushed to 48 points, and an 18-point lead. Insurmountable.
But no one told Ross. And with 13:33 to go in what could have been the final Buckeye game before the NCAA tournament (or maybe the NIT with a loss), Ross went to work. Scoring 12 more points over the next 13 minutes, Ross was the floor captain for the Buckeyes and slowly cut away at the huge Nebraska lead. Down just two points with under two minutes to play, Ross calmly sunk two free throws to tie the game. And on the next possession, did the same thing to take the lead for good.
There's no denying the up-and-down nature of Ohio State's season, and while losing to Michigan the next day hurt, the Buckeyes once again had to come back from a big deficit to stay in the game. Many will be overlooking the Buckeyes on their brackets this year because of the losses to Penn State, or the lack of a hot streak to close out the year. But against a Nebraska team that seemingly had its number, Ohio State and LaQuinton Ross were able to find the composure to snag victory from the jaws of defeat. And being able to do that is what separates one-and-done tourney teams from those that play past the first weekend.