With both their NCAA Tournament hopes still in doubt, Ohio State and Indiana will kick off the second day of action at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, hoping to show the committee they belong in the field of 68. The Buckeyes and Hoosiers tip off today at 12:30 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network, with the winner moving on to face top-seeded Michigan State tomorrow afternoon.
Just a few weeks ago after their win over Iowa in Columbus, it looked like Ohio State would be dancing in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. A lot has happened to the Buckeyes since then, and none of it has been good. Not only was Kaleb Wesson suspended for the last three games due to a violation of athletic department rules, but Ohio State lost all three of those games, leaving the NCAA Tournament spot they were primed for in doubt.
The good news for Ohio State heading into today’s matchup with Indiana is the suspension of Kaleb Wesson has been lifted. Not only will the Buckeyes get their leading scorer back on the court, but it could give Ohio State the boost they need to allow them to snap their three-game losing streak. Prior to his suspension, Wesson had one of his best games of the season in the win over Iowa, registering his third double-double of the season, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds against the Hawkeyes. The battle between Wesson and Indiana forward Juwan Morgan down on the block won’t be for the faint of heart, especially with plenty on the line for both teams.
Ohio State almost scored a huge upset over Wisconsin on Sunday in their regular season finale, but the Badgers took control back in overtime to score the win. The Buckeyes were dominated by Wisconsin for most of the game, trailing 58-36 with just over seven minutes left in the second half. Despite the big deficit, Ohio State didn’t give up, closing the second half on a 16-1 run over the last 3:36, tying the game on a C.J. Jackson jumper with 36 seconds left. The Buckeyes weren’t able to muster much offense in overtime, getting outscored by the Badgers 10-4 in the extra session.
In his final home game at Ohio State, C.J. Jackson came up big when the Buckeyes needed him most, not only hitting the jumper to send the game into overtime, but finishing with a team-high 22 points. The senior guard was the only Buckeye to reach double figures in the scoring column. Keyshawn Woods and Justin Ahrens both added nine points in the loss for Ohio State
The Buckeyes will now turn their attention to this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. Ohio State dominated the Big Ten Tournament during much of Thad Matta’s tenure, but recently the Buckeyes have struggled in the event. Between 2007 and 2013, Ohio State took home four Big Ten Tournament titles under Matta, but the Buckeyes have lost their last three Big Ten Tournament games, and failed to win multiple Big Ten Tournament games in the same year since 2014. Last year Ohio State entered the Big Ten Tournament as the two-seed, but fell to Penn State 69-68 in the quarterfinals.
Ohio State’s opponent in the second round of this year’s Big Ten Tournament is Indiana, a team they have met three previous times in the event, but not since 2006. The Hoosiers have won two of the three matchups in the Big Ten Tournament, but the Buckeyes won the 2006 semifinal meeting 52-51. Ohio State would lose the next day to Iowa in the championship game.
The Buckeyes should come into today’s contest with some confidence due to their recent form against Indiana. Ohio State has won their last three meetings with the Hoosiers. The most recent of those meetings came last month in Bloomington, with the Buckeyes earning a hard-fought 55-52 win over the the Hoosiers. Despite their recent run of success against Indiana, Ohio State still trails 105-80 in the all-time series.
In last month’s meeting with Indiana, Ohio State held a 47-38 lead with 6:27 left in the second half, but the Hoosiers reeled off a 14-2 run, capped by a Devonte Green three-pointer to take a 52-49 lead with 1:46 left in the game. C.J. Jackson answered with a three-pointer to tie the game with 1:11 left, and Ohio State took the lead for good on a Andre Wesson dunk with 20 seconds to go. Wesson finished with a team-high 15 points while Jackson and Kaleb Wesson each added 10 points in the victory.
When Ohio State met Indiana last month, the Hoosiers were in the midst of a stretch that would see them lose 11 of 12 games, but Indiana has been on fire over the last two weeks, winning their last four games. The latest of those wins came on Sunday, when the Hoosiers closed out their regular season schedule with an easy 89-73 win over Rutgers. Juwan Morgan scored 25 points in the victory of the Scarlet Knights, and was named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week for his efforts against Illinois and Rutgers last week.
Along with Morgan, the Hoosiers are led by sensational freshman guard Romeo Langford, who is projected as one of the top picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. Langford scored 20 points in the regular season finale against Rutgers. The freshman is averaging 16.7 points per game this year, which is the third-highest average ever amongst Indiana freshmen, only bettered by Eric Gordon and Mike Woodson. Langford has reached double figures in scoring in all but three games this season.
In their first meeting with the Buckeyes this year, Langford scored 15 points in the loss. Had Indiana gotten more of an offensive contribution from Juwan Morgan, the result could have ended differently. Ohio State did a great job at keeping the senior in check, holding Morgan to just three points on 1-7 shooting from the field. Morgan did his best to make up for his lack of offense on the defensive end, pulling down 14 rebounds, but Ohio State did just enough to earn the victory.
Justin Smith, Alijami Durham, and Rob Phinisee round out the Indiana starting lineup, with all three averaging at least seven points per game this year. Aside from Langford and Morgan, the biggest threat of offense from Indiana comes from Devonte Green, who is usually the first player off the bench for the Hoosiers. Green has scored 11 points in each of the last three games, including a 16-point effort last time out against Rutgers. Ohio State will have to be wary of Green’s outside shot, as the junior has hit six of his last 11 three-point attempts.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 50.4%
Today’s game is a virtual coin flip. The first meeting last month in Bloomington came down to the wire, and there is no reason to think that today’s matchup in Chicago is going to be any different. Tensions will be even higher as both teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, and doing everything they can to convince the selection committee that they belong in this year’s big dance.
The Buckeyes will definitely be boosted by the return of Kaleb Wesson, who will be itching to make up for lost time. What will be crucial for Wesson is that he doesn’t come into the game too excited to get back on the floor, and finds himself in some early foul trouble. Ohio State can’t afford to have Wesson sent to the bench for an extended amount of time, especially with Juwan Morgan looking to makeup for a subpar performance against the Buckeyes last month.
While there’s no question that Ohio State needs a big game out of Kaleb Wesson to beat Indiana, the Buckeyes also need a strong performance out of C.J. Jackson. The senior guard had been very quiet in the five games prior to scoring 22 points against Wisconsin on Sunday. Ohio State is going to need Jackson to help hold Romeo Langford in check if the Buckeyes have any hopes of winning today. If Jackson can hit around his season average in the scoring column, while holding Langford to around 15 points or less, it will go a long way towards helping Ohio State secure a date with Michigan State in Friday’s quarterfinals.