The college basketball season is long, having the potential to go nearly five months if your team makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Losses are bound to happen, and how a team bounces back from them can be instrumental to its success down the stretch.
The No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes have lost three straight games for the first time since February 2009, having yet to recover and get back on their feet as conference play continues.
OSU’s (15-3, 2-3) latest loss was a 63-53 setback at the hands of Minnesota, a game where the Buckeyes made just 18 field goals and committed 13 turnovers.
So where does the team go from here?
“It’s very easy to continue to feel sorry for yourself and continue to look back on mistakes,” senior guard Aaron Craft said. “When you lose a game you always look back and think about them but we’ve lost three now, so there’s three games of mistakes kind of running through everyone’s mind.”
But with those losses sticking in the brains of his players, OSU coach Thad Matta wants his team to move on as it prepares to take on Nebraska (8-8, 0-4) Monday at 7 p.m. in Lincoln, Neb.
“I think that’s one of the battles of trying to play forward and not hang on. We can’t change the past in terms of what’s transpired,” Matta said. “The only thing that we can control is the next game, the next practice … I think the biggest thing I want them doing is focusing their attention obviously on Nebraska but also on themselves and getting back to playing their best basketball.”
The Buckeyes still have 13 regular season games remaining including Monday’s game against the Cornhuskers, so it may not be time to hit the panic button quite yet. That’s not the case though, Craft said.
“I think we need to have a sense of urgency because of the amount of games that are left. We’re over halfway with the guaranteed number of games we got this year,” Craft said. “It’s really easy to continue to say we have a lot of time, but in a sense we don’t. As soon as we can find a way to get back on the right track, the better.”
In OSU’s three losses, the Buckeyes gave up an average of 73 points compared to the 54.9 allowed in the their 15 straight wins to open the season. For a team that has been struggling shooting the ball, the need for solid defense increases.
“We talked about it in the locker room the other day that we weren’t where we were defensively at the beginning of the year,” junior center Amir Williams said. “We just have to get back to our basic principles of hedging ball screens the right way, being in the right position.”
Matta said the defensive execution has been what he wants it to be, noting rise in scoring defense to be the cause of a lack of offensive production by OSU.
“I told the guys, we are putting so much pressure on our defense every, single, time down the floor,” Matta said. “But hopefully we can find a groove offensively.”
The Buckeyes dispatched Nebraska, 84-53, Jan. 4 at the Schottenstein Center, but the Cornhuskers have been in the other two conference games they’ve played since then, falling by a total of seven points to Michigan and Purdue.
“(Nebraska’s) playing better, especially at home. They’ve had a rough schedule to this point,” Matta said.
“They’re not going to feel sorry for us. They seem to have another energy level when they play at home in front of all those fans, on the new floor, in the new arena,” Craft said. “So it’s going to be another challenge. It’s not going to be anything like the game we had in here that seems like forever ago. We’re both different teams and it’s going to be a challenge.”
No matter who or where the Buckeyes are set to play for the rest of the season, or how many games they’ve lost in a row, the focus is on them as a team.
“It is what it is. I’ve always said this: That’s why the focus has to be on us in terms of the mental, physical preparation and knowing that it’s not going to be easy,” Matta said. “You’ve gotta roll your sleeves up and go to work.”