Thad Matta just needed somebody to hug.
After Wisconsin sophomore forward Sam Dekker’s last-second heave clanged off the rim Saturday at the Kohl Center, signaling a victory for Ohio State, the jubilation on the Buckeye sideline was clear.
The man Matta grabbed was the team’s video coordinator, Jake Diebler, and OSU’s coach said Monday it was because Diebler was the closest guy to him.
“He was the first guy I could find,” Matta said with a laugh. “Because I had the line on Dekker’s shot, and I thought it was off to the right and I’ll be honest, I’ve seen what these guys have done. I’ve seen what the staff has done to get us ready to play that game and it was obvious with the ending the other night (against Penn State Wednesday), there was a sense of excitement, a sense of relief.”
The sense of relief Matta felt after the 59-58 victory over the Badgers percolated throughout the rest of the team, but senior guard Aaron Craft said it’s not the time to sit back and be satisfied, especially with the Buckeyes set to visit No. 17 Iowa (17-5, 6-3) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“We got a big win the other day, and we don’t want to rest on that either,” Craft said Monday. “Our biggest focus right now is to find a way to be better than Iowa. Everything else will really take care of itself the more we go on.”
The Hawkeyes came to Columbus and handed the Buckeyes (17-5, 4-5) their first home loss of the season Jan. 12, a 84-74 outcome where OSU struggled against Iowa’s zone defense.
OSU committed 17 turnovers in that loss, something Craft said cannot happen Tuesday.
“We just can’t turn the ball over. That’s what cost us the game the first time,” Craft said. “We had the lead, and turned the ball over quite a few times down the stretch … When they’re at their best, they’re getting buckets in transition, getting fouled, getting to the free throw line. That’s what we can’t do if we want to be in it at the end of the game.”
Junior forward Sam Thompson, who got his first start of the season in the win against Wisconsin in place of junior guard Shannon Scott, agreed and said in order to figure out the zone, the team just needs a different mindset.
“I think it’s just about our mindset on the offensive end against the zone. Last time we played Iowa, we didn’t do a good job of attacking that zone, we really let that zone dictate the way we played on offense,” Thompson said Monday. “We were sort of playing on our heels, moving the ball from side to side and not really looking to attack.”
The Buckeyes — who dropped out of the top 25 rankings for the first time since Jan. 2010, when the latest poll was released Monday — also allowed 44 points in the paint against Iowa in the Jan. 12 loss. Fixing that issue isn’t just on one guy either, Craft said.
“It’s a team defensive effort. They do a good job of setting good screens and getting guys in the paint, whether it’s tight curling or driving the ball off that,” Craft said. “They’re gonna score in the paint, that’s kind of their MO this year. They score in the paint and they get to the free throw line. So we need to find ways that we can hopefully minimize that as much as possible and not get down or not get frustrated when they do maybe go through a stretch where that happens. You have to find a way to get to the next play and move on.”
It is clear OSU is going to need an entire team effort to leave Iowa City with a victory and to win back-to-back games for the first time since starting the season 15-0. Solving the riddle against Wisconsin was a start, Matta said, and continuing it won’t be easy.
“That is the plan,” Matta said about getting a few wins in a row. “It’s a lot easier said than done, reeling a couple off. We went in, we won a tough game. You think about the game before that comes down to the last shot, this one comes down to the last shot. I’d love to not be in that position — it’s making me old, but it is what it is … I liked the energy that we had in huddles, down the stretch guys talking saying ‘We gotta do this, we’ve been here before.’ You hope you can build on that.”