Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
After what was likely the most demoralizing loss for the Ohio State men’s basketball team this season, Thad Matta maintains he’s not entirely unnerved following a 74-55 loss to Illinois Saturday.
“I’m not like panicked, like `Oh my God!”‘ the OSU coach said at a postgame press conference in Champaign, Ill. “This team has shown it can play some pretty good basketball.”
In some regards, Matta’s assertion seems appropriate.
After all, OSU has rolled to victory in most of its 11 wins on the season – including its Big Ten-opener against Nebraska Wednesday, a 70-44 win.
But it also might only tell half of the narrative that’s becoming the Buckeyes’ (11-3, 1-1) campaign, and its dismantling at the hands of the Fighting Illini might be a harbinger for OSU.
In OSU’s three biggest contests of the year against now-No. 1-ranked Duke, No. 6 Kansas and No. 11 Illinois, the Buckeyes are winless and look like a team without an identity at about the halfway point in the season.
A second-half collapse hindered them against the Blue Devils on Nov. 28, and exceptionally poor shooting doomed them against the Jayhawks on Dec. 22 in Columbus.
A combination of those faults, plus what appeared as dispassion on the court, Matta’s crew was handled by his former assistant and current Fighting Illini coach John Groce.
The numbers speak for themselves. In addition to 16 turnovers, OSU shot just 33 percent from the floor and 21 percent from behind the arc. They were also out-rebounded, 40-30, against an Illinois squad coming off an upset loss to unranked Purdue just three days prior.
Matta said the Illini’s defense gave OSU fits and had his team playing catch-up.
“We could never get that one bucket to kind of free us up a little bit, free our minds a little bit,” Matta said.
It might not just be a lack of execution on the court, though. Perhaps OSU’s issues are ones that can’t be remedied by strategy, or taking shooting more seriously in practice, as some players admitted after their win against Chicago State a week earlier.
“They gave us opportunities, and we couldn’t convert,” Matta said.
For OSU, it could be a trend – at least one that seems to have manifested itself against opponents of equal aptitude.
Matta, reluctantly, admitted the loss – perhaps particularly because of its fashion – is still cause for concern.
“It was one of those games where we weren’t thinking the way we needed to think,” he said. “We tried everything.”
And with a game against Purdue Tuesday at 9 p.m. in West Lafayette, Ind., OSU will have little time to gather themselves after, statistically, their worst loss of the season.
“There’s certain games where you got to kind of push it to the side and you’re on to the next one,” Matta said. “But I think these guys want to learn, they want to get better but by the same token, you’re going from one game to the next and you got two days to get ready for it.”
In Case You Missed It – Results from the university’s winter break
Ohio State vs. UNC Asheville
Result: OSU won, 90-72
Then-No.7 OSU dismantled UNC Asheville, 90-72, in a game that saw sophomore forward Sam Thompson notch a career-high 18 points on Dec. 15. En-route to OSU’s 59 percent shooting outing, junior forward Deshaun Thomas also scored 17 points, and junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 16 points.
Ohio State vs. Winthrop
Result: OSU won, 65-55
In its last game before Kansas, OSU struggled to put away Winthrop before Thomas’ 21 points were too much for the Eagles. Perhaps the biggest news from the game, though, had little to do with what happened on the court.
In light of the Newtown, Conn., shootings that happened days before the Dec. 18 game, Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey used his postgame press conference at the Schottenstein Center as a call for change across the country. The shooting, which occurred Dec. 14, left 26 people dead before the shooter took his own life.
Ohio State vs. Kansas
Result: OSU lost, 74-66
In what was billed and hyped as a rematch of last year’s Final Four, the Buckeyes failed to best No. 6 Kansas for the third time in a little more than a year. While OSU trailed just 37-35 at halftime against the Jayhawks, poor shooting and defensive miscues in the second half helped Kansas to a 74-66 win in Columbus.
Ohio State vs. Chicago State
Result: OSU won, 87-44
OSU, in its first time back on the hardwood since a loss to Kansas, overcame a sluggish start before routing Chicago State, 87-44 at the Schottenstein Center. It was the last nonconference game for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State vs. Nebraska
Result: OSU won, 70-44
Behind Thomas and Smith Jr., OSU muscled its way past Nebraska in its Big Ten opener. In fact, Thomas’ 18 first-half points outscored the Cornhuskers’ 17 points in the game’s first act.