Post player Amir Williams of 10th-ranked Ohio State has no doubt that both his team and No. 1 Indiana will be fired up about losing games coming into their big showdown on Sunday.
“Yeah, because it’s a must win for us,” he said, “and it’s a must win for them to challenge for the Big Ten title.”
The Hoosiers get little time to lick their wounds after a stunning 74-72 loss at Illinois on Thursday night in which they were outscored 13-2 down the stretch and lost when Tyler Griffey sank an unguarded layup at the buzzer.
“We didn’t put them away when we had the opportunities,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
What troubled center Cody Zeller was that the Hoosiers seemed to let up.
“They made the last big plays down the stretch and we kind of relaxed,” he said.
Ohio State certainly is expecting the Hoosiers (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) to rebound from the defeat.
“I’m pretty sure now they’re thinking like, ‘We had a tough loss against Illinois, but now we’ve got to get this game against Ohio State,”’ said Buckeyes swingman Deshaun Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer.
Muddying the view even more is that Ohio State (17-5, 7-3) also is trying to put a loss in the rearview mirror.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes are coming off a 76-74 overtime loss at No. 3 Michigan on Tuesday, falling short on a chance to tie when Aaron Craft’s last-second layup was blocked by Tim Hardaway Jr.
“We can’t really dwell on that loss,” Thomas said. “All we’ve got to do is keep on moving forward.”
Indiana is thinking the same thing.
Even though the Hoosiers’ grip on No. 1 is already shaky because of the Illinois loss, the Buckeyes have a solid mark against the nation’s top team in the Associated Press poll.
They are 8-10 all-time against No. 1s, including some of the most memorable wins in school history. The last two times the Buckeyes have met a top-ranked Indiana team (1983, 1993), they’ve pulled off the upset.
Matta, who has a career mark of 3-3 in games against No. 1s, said going up against the top dog in the poll really isn’t that big a deal.
“We’ve always tried to be, hey, it’s the next opponent because that doesn’t get you anything in terms of you still have to play the games, you don’t get a head start or a point advantage,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to be in that position (ranked No. 1) a lot in our time here and I’ve always thought our guys have handled it pretty well.”
The game also has huge importance in the Big Ten standings.
With almost every contender hitting the road for multiple games still, Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State share the top spot at 8-2, with Ohio State and Wisconsin a game back.