CHICAGO — It was a familiar tale for the Ohio State men’s basketball team Friday night at the United Center.
The Buckeyes fell behind quickly, trailing by as many as 16 in the first half, as they were bounced from the Big Ten Tournament, 76-67, in the quarterfinals, marking the first time OSU failed to make the semifinals since 2009.
The deficit swelled to as many as 17 in the second half for the Buckeyes, many of whom said the loss was due to not “staying within the system.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said deviating from the system is the reason the Buckeyes dug themselves such a big hole.
“The biggest thing I told our guys, you’ve got to trust the system more in terms of what we’re doing,” Matta said. “We deviated some, especially early, and it got us.”
OSU’s leading scorer was once again freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, who echoed his coach’s words, adding that despite inching their way back, the Buckeyes can’t afford to keep putting themselves in the same type of situations.
“When everything’s getting tough we always run away from our system instead of trusting it, and we always end up with a loss,” Russell said. “We always kick, scratch and claw back and cut it within six, five, whatever it is, but we always run away from our system and it shows at the end with a loss.”
But what is the system?
Another freshman, forward Jae’Sean Tate, said the system is as simple as each player executing their individual assignments.
“Intensity on offense. Just doing your job. Setting screens, running the floor, just being prepared and playing hard. That’s the system,” Tate said. “We got to come out with intensity and we have to trust the system. When we do that, we are a whole completely different team. When we don’t, we come up short.”
Tate, who will likely make his first NCAA Tournament appearance next week, said the Buckeyes remain confident they can make a run.
“Every time we have trusted our system starting off the game the way we’re supposed to, with Ohio State basketball, we’re a pretty tough team,” Tate said. “I think that this week in practice, we are going to have to stay focussed and be ready.”
Senior guard Shannon Scott, who scored 13 points to go along with nine assists in the loss to Michigan State, said he will need to be a more of a leader for the young Buckeyes as the season winds down.
“I don’t call them freshmen anymore, but I definitely have to be more vocal,” he said. “They haven’t been in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve been fortunate to get to the Final Four, but also lose in the first round so I’ve been on both ends of the stick.”
Ultimately, Scott said the Buckeyes need to relish the moment, while also keeping their intensity.
“You got to enjoy it. It’s the best time of your life, but no one is going to step down,” Scott said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament. everybody feels like they can be a Cinderella team, no matter who it is.”
The Buckeyes are set to find out their NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday night after the final conference tournament comes to a close.