Ohio State entered Sunday's key Big Ten conference showdown with #1 ranked Indiana with the right mind state. Play with the coveted defense that led you to become the top ranked team in the country take down Michigan at home just under a month ago. But when push came to shove, the best team on the hardwood ruled the court. IU stars Victor Oladipo and preseason national player of the year favorite Cody Zeller both went for over 20 as Indiana cruised to a relatively easy victory over Ohio State.
Winning on the road in college basketbal's toughest conference is never a sure thing, but if there's one team built to do so, the Hoosiers made their case on Sunday. Shooting over 50% from the field through traditional metrics for much of the afternoon and flirting with 60% from an eFG% (an advanced stat which gives 50% more credit to three pointers for their increased degree of difficulty), Indiana made an emphatic statements that sometimes great offense can overcome great defense. The Buckeyes weren't their usual selves defensively either, as they seldom had a matchup answer for Zeller.
The Buckeyes's scoring offense was also far from pareto optimality. Out of sheer need, Deshaun Thomas attempted to put the entire load on his shoulders, and with Aaron Craft the next nearest scorer, there was never much doubt that Indiana had this one in hand.
Sunday's game started off with worst case potential becoming a frightening reality and fast. A Sam Thompson turnover and missed layup and a pair of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo jumpers gave the Hoosiers a quick 4-0 lead. The duo would continue the trend throughout much of the afternoon.
The Buckeyes battled back to close the game to within two at 6-4 on an unlikely pair of makes from Aaron Craft and Evan Ravenel (with an assist from Lenzelle Smith Jr), but that deficit multiplied in a hurry. Jordan Hulls made the first of Indiana's seven (though it felt like much more) three point field goals and also added a layup.
Thomas asserted himself for the first time on the day with a smooth three on an assist from Craft and after a follow up layup by the latter, the Buckeyes were back within one point. A rare, early appearance in a big game by Trey McDonald and some much needed offensive support from LaQuinton Ross helped to keep the Buckeyes within striking distance, but a 5-0 run and IU's inability to miss would help them pad their lead to 8 going into the half.
The Hoosiers also took the lead in the vaunted GIF-able plays category, with Victor Oladipo throwing down a ferocious slam and Sam Thompson missing a pair.
Deshaun Thomas came close to jumpstarting the team just before half with a crazy move in the paint, but with Aaron Craft leading the Buckeyes' in rebounding at the break, it was obvious that Ohio State had had their fair share of bricks (and long ones at that).
Thomas's prerogative going into half number two was to put the balance of the contest on his shoulders. He'd be responsible for five quick points for the Buckeyes, while Indiana only added a pair of Cody Zeller free throws. With the score set at 43-39, that would be the closest Ohio State would get for the remaining 17 minutes of game action.
Oladipo, super sub Will Sheehey, and European style big man Christian Watford all added three point field goals, and Indiana had the lead comfortably to double digits for much of the remainder of the half. It didn't help Ohio State's efforts that they couldn't buy a basket in stretches, and their trademark shutdown defense didn't seem to apply with the Hoosiers' wealth of scoring threats.
Despite a late push with just over a minute to go, in the absence of Notre Dame hero Jerian Grant (nor his spirit animal, Tracy McGrady), the Buckeyes' mountainous deficit was just too much to make up. Ohio State simply failed to put the ball in the basket far too many times on the day and with three Hoosiers (Oladipo, Zeller, and Watford) all finishing with 20+ points scored to Ohio State's 1 (Thomas), there wasn't anything the Buckeyes could do.
Those that camped out for the better part of three days to get their places for this one could only look on as they watched what could very conceivably be a Final Four team lay claim to a tie for the lead in the Big Ten Conference and potentially keep their place as the #1 team in the country when both major polls are released tomorrow.
Ohio State now finds themselves staring a two-game losing streak in the face. At 17-6 (7-4 in league play) and with the perpetual grind of playing in the country's best basketball league continuing on into early-to-mid March, they'll have to get things righted and in a hurry as Northwestern heads to Value City Arena Thursday night with a trip to the daunting Kohl Center on the calendar just three days later.