When a college basketball game is closing on the the final minutes of play, most coaches would say each possession becomes increasingly more important.
The value of making the correct read, protecting the ball, making free throws and getting good shots goes up in such a way that if a team fails to do those things, they are likely to end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard when the buzzer sounds.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said Saturday doing the little things — like converting free throws, keeping proper spacing on offense and defending to his team’s capability — is what ultimately led to its 65-63 loss Thursday night against Penn State.
Even junior guard Shannon Scott knew something was off that night in State College, Pa., mentioning that at times when the Buckeyes (22-7, 9-7, fourth in the Big Ten) were trying to decipher the Nittany Lions’ zone defense, not everyone was on the same page.
“We’re not seeing it all the way the whole time. There’s been possessions where three players are running one play, and two players are running a different play,” Scott said Saturday. “We’ve gotta have a better focus on our offense, especially against the zone.”
When Matta was told that Scott said the team sometimes has trouble getting into the right sets offensively — even though the team is 29 games into the season — he said it shows how OSU’s mind wasn’t in the right place against Penn State.
“That just tells you the concentration wasn’t there. And a lot of that is on Shannon and (senior guard) Aaron (Craft). We were going way too quick the other night,” Matta said. “We had a guy stop and tie his shoe twice during the game, and we didn’t start our offense until there was 22 seconds on the clock. We had wasted possessions on those two possessions.”
The No. 22 Buckeyes are likely going to need to have those little things corrected when they are set to travel to Bloomington, Ind., to take on Indiana (16-12, 6-9, eighth in the Big Ten). The Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season title last year, beating the Buckeyes by a game in the standings.
OSU’s second loss this season to Penn State this year was not exactly what the Buckeyes had planned, Scott said, but there’s no time to worry about that with a quick turnaround to take on Indiana.
“It cuts us deep, losing another game. But we can’t really dwell on it. It’s too late in the season to start dwelling on our mistakes,” Scott said. “It’s not time for that right now. We gotta all be men and move on from that and make the most of our next games.”
Despite falling to Penn State Thursday, OSU would still be the fourth seed in the Big Ten Tournament — and get a first-round bye — if the season ended today, because Iowa also lost Thursday, on the road at Indiana.
The Hoosiers are led by sophomore guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, who is currently fourth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per game.
“Ferrell is obviously one of the top point guards in the country and (freshman forward Noah) Vonleh is a monster,” Matta said of the Hoosiers two leading scorers. “Just a well-coached basketball team, very good basketball team and it’s another Big Ten war for us.”
Despite their record, Indiana isn’t going to be an easy opponent, Scott said.
“We know none of our games are going to get easier. Indiana’s a great team,” Scott said. “Their record doesn’t show how good they really are, so we all know that coming into the game. We’re going to be prepared for them and hopefully be ready to play.”
The loss to Penn State came on the heels of six wins in seven games for OSU, but Matta said he’s not concerned about his team’s confidence level.
“It’s funny because with this quick turnaround, I’m not even worried about confidence,” Matta said. “Our focus is quite honestly, ‘Hey that’s behind us. We can’t change that. Here’s what we gotta do to try to win the basketball game’ … In terms of being 25 games or whatever we are into the season, come on — you gotta man up. You gotta carry your weight around here and get the job done.”
Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. Sunday at Assembly Hall.