March 9, 2013
Three-point play: Illinois
Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Five days removed from its biggest win of the season- a 67-58 road victory over second-ranked Indiana- the No. 14 Ohio State men's basketball team (22-7, 12-5) will return to action on Sunday when it hosts Illinois (21-10, 8-9) in the regular season finale for both teams. On Friday, Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta and senior center Evan Ravenel met with the media to preview their team's upcoming matchup with the Fighting Illini.
Going for four
With a win over Illinois and a Michigan victory over Indiana later in the day, Ohio State would clinch a share of its fourth consecutive Big Ten regular season championship. Matta, however, doesn't seem too concerned about the latter part of that equation, as he knows that it is meaningless without the former occurring.
"I just want to play well Sunday. I think that is where our focus is completely. We would be foolish to think past 12:30 on Sunday," Matta said. "That's all we've ever done. We have one more game to play to end the regular season and that is the only thing that is on my mind and hopefully the only thing on our players' minds."
Judging by the reaction from Ravenel, the Buckeyes' players are on the same page as their head coach.
"The Big Ten, it's the best league in the country," Ravenel said. "It's a good feeling I guess, but the only thing I'm concerned about is that for any of that to even happen, we gotta get this game on Sunday at 12:30. Right now, that's our focus."
Fighting the Illini
As for how Ohio State will stay focused on the task at hand, Matta said that it's pretty simple. The Buckeyes are facing an Illinois team that beat them 74-55 more than two months ago, which should serve as a reminder to them to not overlook the sixth-place Illini.
"You're playing a team that literally destroyed you on January 5th," Matta said. "There hasn't been a whole lot more conversation than that."
With Illinois holding the second-largest margin of victory over Ohio State all season, Ravenel said that him and his teammates are focused on giving a better outing in the second go-round between the two teams. The Buckeyes' senior center isn't so much concerned with seeking revenge against the Illini, as he is with making up for his team's disastrous showing in Champaign.
"We owe it to ourselves to play harder," Ravenel said. "We don't owe Illinois a thing. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our fans, to our school, our community. Because we went up there and we embarrassed ourselves ... the way we played is unacceptable for an Ohio State team."
The Buckeyes' lone senior, Sunday will mark the last game of Ravenel's college career that will be played in the Schottenstein Center. The Boston College transfer said that he's grateful for the experiences he's enjoyed in Columbus over the past three years and is looking forward to one last game in front of Ohio State's home crowd.
"It's gonna be kind of a bittersweet feeling 'cause I really enjoyed my time here. I really enjoyed it so much. I'm gonna be happy because I'm going to get a chance to play basketball here one last time, but I'm gonna be sad because it's going to be my last time playing," Ravenel said. "I enjoyed everybody from the coaches, my teammates, the people that work here at the Schott, the teachers, everything. My time at Ohio State has been wonderful from the day I stepped on campus."
While Ravenel may not be on the same level as a Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger in terms of talent, he has managed to establish himself as a reliable rotation player over the Buckeyes' past two seasons. Matta has appreciated the Tampa, Fla. native's ability to not only know his role, but to play within it.
"From the time he got here, he's established a very strong work ethic. He came in as a guy that, we told him he had a long road home and just his commitment. He's always been a great teammate," Matta said. "He's always fit in. He has a very good understanding in terms of what he needs to bring to the team."
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