College basketball seasons are bound to come with their respective twists and turns. Even an unblemished record doesn’t come without an off night or a close game.
One day a team can be seemingly nailing every shot it takes and blowing out opponents while on the next, it can’t hit the broad side of a barn.
During the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s current two-game losing streak, the Buckeyes (22-8, 9-8, sixth in the Big Ten) have experienced more of the latter.
In particular, shooting from long range has been a struggle for OSU in losses to Penn State and Indiana.
Against the Nittany Lions, coach Thad Matta’s team shot a pedestrian 29.4 percent from beyond the arc. As rough as that performance was, it paled in comparison to what OSU did against Indiana Sunday.
For the first time since Jan. 10, 2004, OSU failed to connect from three-point land, missing all 11 of its attempts, and fell to the Hoosiers, 72-64.
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the loss to Indiana, the struggles from beyond the arc are an easy fix, however.
“Shooting, that’s about confidence,” Smith Jr. said in an interview with Cleveland.com. “Guys gotta get their confidence back and we’ve got shooters so there’s no excuse. We’ve got to put the ball in the bucket. We’ve got guys who can make threes and we’ve got to step up and obviously put the ball in the bucket.”
Smith Jr. tied junior forward LaQuinton Ross for a team-high with 19 points against the Hoosiers and shot 60 percent from the floor, but he missed both of his attempts from beyond the arc. He also shot just 1-6 from deep against Penn State.
Matta said he has sensed confidence is dipping for OSU, especially when pressure is turned up.
“We were rolling until Thursday night (against Penn State), in all seriousness,” Matta said to Cleveland.com after the loss to Indiana. “I think we’re really lacking in a confidence issue, we’re lacking in a toughness issue in terms of playing through situations. Those are things that somehow, some way, we’ve got to get corrected.”
The Buckeyes’ need to regain their confidence is a high priority as the regular season draws to a close. They currently sit half a game behind Iowa and Nebraska in the Big Ten standings, who are tied for fourth in the Big Ten. The top four teams in the standings receive a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, set to begin March 13.
Smith Jr. was quick to add that even though the confidence has been lacking lately, the mood in the locker room doesn’t give any reason to believe the trend will continue.
“We’re a great team when we come to execute and when we’re on top of our game,” Smith Jr. said to Cleveland.com. “I said we can beat any team in the country, and I’m going to stick by that … I should be happy with what we should produce at the end of the season.
“I’m not panicking. I’m not worried about anything.”
Since using a huge second half to beat Minnesota, 64-46, Feb. 22, it appears something has been off with the team.
Ross said in an interview with Cleveland.com a big part of that is a lack of focus — something that could become a big problem if it is allowed to continue.
“We just get too comfortable at times during the game, thinking we’ve got the lead and (that) we’re going to be able to hold it,” Ross said of the 21-5 run the Buckeyes allowed against Indiana, which the Hoosiers used to take the lead for good. “Not thinking that those other teams we’re playing are just as good as us. They’re putting their foot on the gas, and we’re taking ours off it.”
Ross, OSU’s leading scorer, knows a thing or two about losing focus during a game. Ross was ejected during OSU’s game against Northwestern for shoving a player and committed a technical foul against Indiana for a similar infraction.
Those are the type of things that can prove costly, Matta said, especially late in the season.
“I told LaQuinton: ‘Hey, man, you get a technical foul and it’s your second foul and then you’re having your way in the second half and you foul out of the game,’” Matta said to Cleveland.com. “Little things. Those are the types of things that say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get our concentration back, get our focus back and an understanding of what we’re doing.’”
OSU’s next opportunity to try working through the rough spots in its play comes against No. 22 Michigan State (22-7, 11-5, tied for second in the Big Ten) when the Spartans are set to come to Columbus Sunday. Tipoff is slated for 4:30 p.m.