In sports, momentum is everything.
One play can turn a game. Season. Career.
For the No. 11 Ohio State men’s basketball team, that season-turning play could have come against then-No. 5 Michigan State.
After fighting back from a second half deficit of 17 points in the Jan. 7 game, OSU had a chance to win the game in regulation, but junior guard Shannon Scott missed a fast break layup at the buzzer and the game went to overtime.
MSU went on to win the game 72-68 in the extra period, which was followed by an 84-74 loss to Iowa for the Buckeyes, the first time OSU has lost back-to-back games in 11 months.
Now with a trip to Minnesota (13-4, 2-2) up next for OSU, senior guard Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes need to right the ship before the season gets away from them.
“There’s still a lot of basketball to be played and the worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves … We can’t keep this going. We have to find a way to pick ourselves up because no one’s going to do it for us,” Craft said after the loss to the Hawkeyes Sunday. “It’s us 12 players on the team, the coaches and that’s about it.”
The last time OSU lost three straight games was in February 2009, against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois. That was also the last season the Buckeyes failed to make it to at least the Sweet 16 come the NCAA Tournament.
After the Buckeyes lost to MSU, coach Thad Matta said in a conference like the Big Ten, the team has to be ready for a battle each and every game.
“You know, it just keeps coming. We’ll build on positives from this game and we’ll correct the negatives,” Matta said. “We’ll get ready to go again, because it doesn’t get any easier.”
The Big Ten is second in the nation in terms of conference RPI according CBSSports, just behind the Big 12. The Big Ten also has two teams in the top five — No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 4 MSU — and four total in the top 25.
Craft said the strength of every team in the Big Ten means OSU cannot let up at any point.
“It’s not going to get easier,” Craft said. “I think we go through stretches where we want things to be easy. We don’t want them to make a run when we’re up nine, we want them to just die. And they’re not going to do that … That’s probably one of the bigger things we have to do, take out of this game, is that it’s a 40 minute game and we can’t have lapses like we did and we have to find ways out.”
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after OSU’s 71-31 victory against Louisiana-Monroe Dec. 27 the team was “ecstatic” about the chance to play in such a tightly contested conference.
“There are going to be some great challenges and we are going to learn a lot about this team,” Smith Jr. said. “This is what we have been preparing for all season. I can’t wait to see where we match up against some of the best teams in the country.”
The game against the Golden Gophers is set to tip off at 9 p.m. Thursday.
With Minnesota’s zone defense, the Buckeyes will face something they haven’t seen often this year. Matta said after the game against Nebraska, OSU can’t expect to ever see the same thing twice in the Big Ten.
“Every game poses a different scenario in what we might need,” Matta said.
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