The Ohio State men’s basketball team hasn’t won two games a row since the first week of 2015, but the Buckeyes have an opportunity to change that coming up.
And senior forward Sam Thompson said it’s of utmost importance to take advantage of that.
“Any time you have a chance to get two in a row at home, we have to get it,” Thompson said during a Saturday press conference.
The Buckeyes (15-5, 4-3) are scheduled to take on Indiana (15-4, 5-1) on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center, just over two weeks after losing to the Hoosiers on the road.
Since that matchup in Bloomington, Ind., which resulted in a 69-66 loss, OSU has won two of three games, but the two wins were split by a loss to Iowa. Coach Thad Matta said his main focus heading into Sunday’s matchup is simply finding a way to string wins together.
“I think that’s the biggest thing I want with these guys, lets try to win a couple in a row,” he said during the press conference. “Lets get the momentum going back on our side.”
The Buckeyes tasted some of that momentum with a win in their last outing — a 69-67 triumph over Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. But even in that game, OSU struggled out of the gate as the Wildcats took an early 8-0 lead.
Despite the early deficit, Thompson said there was a silver lining that came with falling behind and then climbing back, but the Buckeyes still haven’t found the groove that Matta has been hoping for.
“To get down the way that we got down on the road and to be able to battle back the way that we did was big for us,” he said. “Obviously it was just one game, and in order to hit that stride that he (Matta) was talking about we have to do it consistently. But I think that that’s a good building block.”
After starting the season 11-2 in non-conference play, OSU lost three of its first six Big Ten matchups. That stretch included two losses to Iowa, the loss to Indiana and just two double-digit victories.
Matta had gone with the same starting lineup — barring one wrinkle due to an injury to senior center Amir Williams — throughout the season before the matchup with Northwestern. Against the Wildcats, both Williams and sophomore forward Marc Loving found themselves on the bench to start the game.
With redshirt-senior center Anthony Lee and freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate in the lineup instead, the Buckeyes still didn’t start off well, but eventually found the necessary spark to win the game.
Tate said he “inferred” that he would start heading into the game based off of practice, but added it doesn’t matter to him whether or not he comes off the bench.
“The mindset didn’t change at all, starting or coming off the bench I still have the same mindset,” he said. “Bring energy, try to bring energy.
“So starting wasn’t really a big deal, just as long as we win.”
Matta said he’s not sure which lineup will start against Indiana, but added he wants to spark competition in practice with the changes in playing time.
“I told our guys yesterday, I said ‘look, I don’t know who I’m going to start on Sunday, and it’s nothing that anybody’s done. I just want to compete in practice, and see what happens,’” he said.
Now with another shot at Indiana on the horizon, Thompson said whoever is on the court has to be ready to guard the opposition one on one.
“We know that dribble penetration and keeping the ball in front of us is gonna be huge,” he said. “They usually have five guys that can make plays off the bounce. Five pretty interchangeable guys on offense.”
Matta said the Hoosiers play a style of offense different than the majority of teams the Buckeyes will face, and added both teams are playing at a higher level than they were in Bloomington.
“They’re playing better right now, and I think we’re playing better right now,” he said.
In order to make sure OSU is the team playing at an even higher level at tip-off, Thompson said the Buckeyes have to come out amped up and ready to go, which has been lacking at the times OSU has struggled this season — especially in the previous matchup with Indiana.
“I think just from the jump they came out with more energy, more intensity,” he said. “And we have to change that tomorrow.”