First, it was 15 straight wins and a No. 3 ranking. Now, it’s four straight losses, an increased risk of dropping out of the top 25 and a season spiraling out of control.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team has had an odd feeling about it lately.
“It’s definitely been different. No one in that locker room has ever lost like this,” junior forward Sam Thompson said. “No one has ever lost four in a row and we know that it’s unacceptable for our program to lose four basketball games in a row.”
The current skid is the first time OSU has lost four straight games since February 2009. In those four losses — to Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota and Monday at Nebraska — the Buckeyes (15-4, 2-4) have struggled shooting the ball, making just 40.4 percent of their shots from the field. Points in the paint have been an issue as well, particularly in the last three games, as OSU has given up 120 points down low.
Junior centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald have struggled, causing OSU coach Thad Matta to play with a smaller lineup down the stretch late in games to give his team a chance. Williams has started all 19 games this season for OSU — along with senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., junior guard Shannon Scott and junior forward LaQuinton Ross — but his recent play begs a question: Should there be a change to the starting five?
“I haven’t even thought in terms of that, from what we did (Tuesday) to what we’re getting to go out and do here in practice. We’re going to compete and get after it and I want to see who’s standing at the end of the day, but I’ve had a lot of thoughts go through my mind. But the starting lineup — I haven’t even thought about that one,” Matta said after a brief pause. “We’ve started games well. Last couple, we’ve got off to decent starts. I’ve been pretty pleased with those, but we gotta get the middle and the end corrected.”
No matter who starts or finishes the games, though, the end result has not been what OSU wants, as turnovers, missed shots and poor defensive executions have led to almost three weeks without a victory.
“I don’t know if I’d call it a lack of confidence. I’d definitely say there is a different feel around than we had (19) days ago, but I wouldn’t call it a confidence issue,” Thompson said. “I would say there is a certain frustration level with the basketball team, just with losing. We’re not frustrated with each other, we’re not frustrated with the coaching staff, we’re just frustrated with ourselves that we aren’t coming out and doing the things we know we’re capable of doing.”
Scott agreed with Thompson, and said the team is going to be “fine” once it gets back to what it needs to do.
“We know what we have to do now, we know what we’re capable of doing as a team but until we take action and fix what we’ve been doing lately, we’re not going to be a successful basketball team,” Scott said. “Once we all get our heads straight and stick together, we’re going to be fine.”
The team standing in the way of OSU putting a halt to its four-game skid is Illinois (13-6, 2-4), also a team that has lost four in a row. With both squads reeling, the intensity is likely to be high Thursday.
“We both need wins. Illinois, right now, is in the same position as us, having lost four straight,” Thompson said. “I can’t exactly speak on how they feel, but we assume they feel the same way that we feel in that this is a one-game season.”
“(It’s) another Big Ten game. Because I think you would look and say everyone in this league is, in one way or another, desperate,” Matta said. “You can’t take anything for granted. You gotta go out and play.”
As OSU looks to get back on track, Thompson said it is using the four straight losses as motivation.
“We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. We’re not going to get down on ourselves. We’re a tougher basketball team than that,” Thompson said. “We’re a veteran-led basketball team and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we come out and play to the best of our abilities on Thursday.”
Tipoff at the Schottenstein Center is set for 7 p.m.