INDIANAPOLIS — Down by as many as 16 points early against Michigan (25-8, 17-4) in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals, it was like nothing had changed for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.
One day after completing an 18-point comeback against Nebraska in the final 13:45 of the game, OSU allowed Michigan to come out hot and seemingly shut the door on the Buckeyes early.
Although OSU (25-9, 12-9) came close to pulling out another victory — even taking the lead with less than three minutes to play — the Wolverines hit their shots down the stretch and pulled out a narrow 72-69 win.
So what went wrong for those first few minutes? Why do the Buckeyes continue to put themselves in deep holes?
“It starts from the beginning of the game, and you don’t know why guys aren’t ready to go,” senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the loss to Michigan. “I don’t know why that is and it’s something I’m obviously not used to. As a senior, that’s leadership — we need to try and make sure guys are ready to go when we tipoff … Those are situations where it’s tough and you come over and talk to the coaches and say ‘We don’t have it right now, we don’t have the juice,’ and coaches can’t do anything about that, and that’s on us out there.
“I can’t think about the whole team and I’ve just got to fight and hope a spark will get lit.”
Coach Thad Matta said against the Cornhuskers, the Buckeyes were completely to blame for allowing themselves to fall behind. But against Michigan, it was hard to stop the Wolverines from shooting so well.
“I was not happy yesterday (against Nebraska),” Matta said. “I think today the way they (Michigan) came out and played that first 13 minutes was … I would venture to say they would be up by double digits on most anybody in college basketball.”
Junior guard Shannon Scott, whose career-high tying 18 points was a major part of the comeback, said it’s hard to stop a team that shoots so well for long stretches.
“Michigan hit some crazy shots,” Scott said. “I’ve never seen shots like that happen honestly. I feel like we have a great defense, we played our defense, they just hit some great shots. We can’t really stop that.”
Junior forward LaQuinton Ross — who finished with a game-high 19 points in the loss to the Wolverines — was quick to add the hot shooting didn’t last the whole night, as OSU found its way back into the game.
“But we fought back — we fought back and got in the game. That’s what we’ve been doing this whole tournament and it came down to the end, couple of plays that we didn’t make and that’s on us,” Ross said.
Adversity spurs growth though, and that is something Smith Jr. said he fully expects to come out of the way the Buckeyes battled back.
“Once we get these (little things) corrected, I’d be afraid of us,” Smith Jr. said. “We’re definitely going to be a better team because of it. We take that with the type of fight this team has, and the effort we’re giving to dig ourselves out of holes, I think that’ll be something good for us.”
Junior forward Sam Thompson said part of allowing themselves to get down was lacking the mentality to keep fighting.
“We got a little soft, we started feeling sorry for ourselves, we started pointing the finger instead of looking in the mirror and hunkering down, coming together and being a tough basketball team,” Thompson said. “That’s who we are, we’re a tough basketball team. We’re a team that’s not going to give up, that’s not going to allow one play to affect the next and that’s what we need to be the next few weeks.”
OSU, a six seed in the NCAA Tournament, is scheduled to take on No. 11-seeded Dayton (23-10, 10-6) in the second round of the tournament Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. at 12:15 p.m.
“Every game this tournament, we dug ourselves into a hole, we’ve got to stop doing that. Once we get that in our heads, it will be all right,” Scott said.