Chicago — There was no talk of revenge coming from the Ohio State camp on Thursday afternoon.
The Buckeyes had just held off a furious Indiana rally to beat the Hoosiers, 79-75, in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center, and they were taking at least just a moment to enjoy a win that surely helped make their case to the NCAA Tournament committee.
But the reality of the conference tournament is you get precious little time to rest on your laurels. For Ohio State (19-13), that means a matchup with No. 1 Michigan State at 12:30 p.m. Friday. Not only does it offer the Buckeyes a chance to build their resume with a high-profile victory, it’s an opportunity to make amends for losing twice to the Spartans during the regular season.
“You always want to play a team that beat you twice,” Ohio State senior Keyshawn Woods said. “It's another game for us. It's an important game for us. We've got to keep winning if you want to advance in the tournament. We've got to prepare tonight for Michigan State.”
Woods, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, certainly did his share on Thursday, leading the Buckeyes with 18 points, including two critical buckets in the final two minutes as Indiana was on the process of cutting a 20-point deficit down to three.
“He was tremendous. I thought he was tremendous in every way,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said of Woods. “I thought he's looked, since the 10-minute mark of the Wisconsin game, like a guy that wasn't ready to see his career over any time soon. And that's what you hope in seniors. Like, that is what we've been kind of hoping to see.”
That urgency wasn’t there in the two meetings with Michigan State. Woods scored only two points in 28 minutes in Michigan State’s 86-77 win Jan. 5 in Columbus, and he managed just four points in 23 minutes in the Spartans’ 62-44 victory Feb. 17 in East Lansing.
That game also featured the injury to Michigan State junior center Nick Ward. He suffered a broken hand late in the second half, had surgery that night and hasn’t played since, missing the final five games of the regular season.
Ward will be back on Friday, and Holtmann said his team will be prepared.
“I've watched them a little bit, but not as much, honestly,” Holtmann said. “They had Nick Ward both times. He went out the second half of our game. I don't know what his status is now. But they're terrific. They're an elite team, can get to a Final Four, can win a national championship. They're deserving of everything that's come their way. We'll need to play exceptional basketball for 40 minutes. But we're excited about the opportunity.”
Ohio State got its own big man back on Thursday, as sophomore Kaleb Wesson played for the first time after serving a three-game suspension. He scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
He and Ward have had their share of battles the past two seasons, but Wesson’s priority was getting back into a rhythm.
“I just let the game come to me,” Wesson said. “They were able to get me the ball and made an effort to get me the ball. I think it was just more of playing the game and letting it come to me.
“(Sitting out) has been tough. You know you always want to be out there with your guys, the guys you’ve been struggling with, grinding with from the beginning of the year. So, just seeing them out there — it just hurt not to be able to do anything.”