Ohio State Basketball: Becoming the Hunted

On Sunday, January 7th 2018, the Ohio State Men’s Basketball team defeated the top ranked Michigan State Spartans. When asked about the upset, OSU’s coach, Chris Holtmann, responded, “It is hard to win on the road, especially when you have that kind of number by your name. You get a different look from teams.” That ‘number’ he was referring to was the tiny 1 that could be seen next to Michigan State’s name throughout the game’s broadcast, and the point he was making was that, when people know you’re the best, your opponents play you harder.

Coach Holtmann knew this fact from experience, himself watching his own Buckeyes give the AP’s number 1 ranked team in America all it could handle, and then some.

From the beginning of the season, when they were selected by some to finish as low as 14th in the Big Ten (out of 14), this undervalued and overlooked team had been playing with a chip on their shoulders.

In fact, when asked whether OSU’s quick conference start surprised him, Senior Jae’Sean Tate told the press that he and the other players “always remind ourselves that we were last picked in the Big Ten… and I think that has really been a key to our success.” This slight drove them to become a team that played with ferocity—that played their tough and scrappy game no matter the opponent.

They were hunters.

As far as any of their opponents knew, this was a team of misfits—a roster filled to the brim with walk-ons, transfers, busts and guys who just couldn’t stay healthy; but from the beginning of the season, they started proving people wrong.

In an early season matchup against a tournament-level Butler team, they showed flashes of dominance that belied their humble exterior, but a last second comeback by the Bulldogs kept OSU in the shadows. Another opportunity for some notoriety came in the ACC-B1G Challenge, but, once again, a late-game collapse against the now-ranked Clemson Tigers stole the spotlight away. They had some losses, but they were hunters still.

Luckily, after missing two other opportunities at signature wins against Gonzaga and UNC, their prey had finally arrived. It came in the form of the aforementioned Spartans, a team on a 14-game win streak, standing atop the College Basketball world. Ohio State went into that Sunday night showdown the hunters, but they came out the hunted.

A home game against Maryland in which they were down by 9 at the 11 minute mark of the 1st half proved that they were no longer a team that would be overlooked.  At the end of the game, Maryland’s Coach Turgeon said, “We knew we weren’t getting the same shot that Michigan State got at the start of the game,” and so the Terrapins came out swinging. The Buckeyes didn’t have that same fire to start off, the way they had against the Spartans, but after a quick timeout by Coach Holtmann, Maryland got buried, going from up nine to eight down in less than 4 minutes, and that was pretty much the end of the game.

After surviving their first test as the hunted, the Buckeyes had to go on the road against Rutgers, a physical, defensive team that had just barely failed to do what Ohio State did in knocking off Michigan State.  This time, though, the Buckeyes would have no home crowd. They would be playing on regional television in a game that Rutgers would surely be up for after such a great performance in the previous week.  However, once again, the Buckeyes were up to the challenge, beating Rutgers 66-46. Holtmann said after the game that they “are going to have some people that will play with a different edge” and that they would “see if we are good enough to manage that.” Another test passed. Another hunt escaped.

Of course, for all of their impressive defensive statistics, Rutgers is currently 1-5 in conference and tied for 12th in the standings. Tonight, the Buckeyes face off against a much better team in their arena and on their court. Northwestern, a team that made the tournament last year and then had the nerve to return 4 starters, has been slumping for the better part of this season, but they do have the talent to compete with Ohio State. The game between these teams is going to be Big Ten basketball at its finest, and the Buckeyes are going to have to grind it out.

OSU has proven that they have the goods to play with the big boys. They have proven that they can come back at home and take care of the conference’s not-so-good teams on the road. Now they’ve got to take it one step further to prove they deserve to be at the top of the Big Ten. They have to beat a good team on the road when that team is preparing specifically for them. This is just the next test of many to come as they seek to close out the season strongly.

Tonight they have a chance to pass another milestone for this once-unheralded Buckeyes team and to add to their tournament resume, only this time, they’re the ones with the number by their name.

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