Buckeyes' Comeback Began Long Ago

Buckeyes' Comeback Began Long Ago

Ohio State's comeback against Nebraska officially began with a three-pointer by LaQuinton Ross, but it had its roots in the deficits erased earlier this season against Notre Dame and Michigan State.

Ohio State came back from an 18-point deficit against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, but the seeds for that victory were planted long ago and far away.

It had roots in places as far away as New York City's Madison Square Garden, where the Buckeyes were down 58-50 to Notre Dame with 58 seconds left but won in regulation, and in East Lansing, where an improbable rally against Michigan State fell short but sent the game to overtime.

Those roots extended off the court, too, to a team meeting that the Buckeyes had this season to discuss exactly how and why their winning ways went off course. They haven't been perfect since their recovery from the worst stretch of the season, as losses to Michigan and Indiana showed, but they've been better.

"That was the thing we talked about before the game and all through the season, even when we were going through our stretch where we lost games – don't panic," Ohio State junior forward LaQuinton Ross said. We sat down and had a team meeting about some things we need to change on the team, and one of the first things we put up there was, ‘don't panic.' We didn't panic in this situation, and we were able to come back."

It was Ross who helped lead the charge on the comeback, finishing with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but it was also a moment of frustration from him that sent Ohio State into its deepest depths.

With Ohio State trailing 42-30 five minutes into the second half, Ross was whistled for a technical foul. Perhaps sensing blood, Nebraska responded with six consecutive points to extend its advantage to a game-high 18 points.

Buckeyes coach Thad Matta left Ross in, almost by default given that the junior was the only productive offensive player for large portions of the game. Ross paid back that faith by ending Nebraska's run with a three-pointer that cut the deficit to 15 and began a rally.

It didn't happen immediately, given Nebraska's six-point outburst, but the technical foul on Ross galvanized the emotions of his teammates that ultimately helped carry them to victory.

One by one, they each spoke in the locker room after the game about why that moment seemed to light a fire under them and spark the comeback.

"We thought they were playing a little bit too physically," junior forward Sam Thompson said. "They got some shots at us after the whistle. We didn't like how they were dancing on the bench. Just the whole vibe, we didn't like it. I think that Q's tech kind of brought it all to a head. We were able to rally around that and get ourselves going."

Added senior guard Lenzelle Smith: "I think from that point on, that's where we drew the line. We knew we had to make our own luck. Nobody was going to give us anything. At that point, I feel like guys were thinking referees were affecting the game too much when they shouldn't have been. From that point, we didn't worry about the referees. We didn't worry about anything that went on. It was just on to the next play, and I think that carried over and helped us win the game."

Did the thought of losing ever cross their minds? Despite the slim odds of victory down by 18 points with 13 minutes left, sophomore guard Amedeo Della Valle insisted that only positive thoughts crossed the minds of the Buckeyes.

"We never give up," he said. "We were on the court talking to each other like, ‘We're not going to quit. We're not going to quit. One point at a time.' It's not easy to come back, especially after you score and then they score again. It's a big downer, but we stayed focused and we never gave up.

"You never think it's over. Never, never, never."

Where did they learn that? In New York. In East Lansing. And in a players' meeting when things weren't going well.

"We've been down eight with 57 seconds left against Notre Dame, down 20-something against Michigan State," Thompson said. "We didn't win that game, but we had a shot in regulation to win it and a shot in overtime to win it. We know that no lead is insurmountable, that we can come back from anything as long as we keep doing what we do."

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