When the Ohio State men’s basketball team walked into Assembly Hall on Sunday to take on Indiana, it was riding high on a seven-game winning streak, thinking that perhaps its early-season struggles, which included a four-game nonconference losing slide, could be a thing of the past.
When the Buckeyes arrived back in Columbus, all they wanted was to be able to have a short memory to erase the events of the afternoon.
OSU (11-6, 3-1) was trounced 85-60 by the Hoosiers, including being outscored 48-18 in the first half. Now, with the fear of another extended period of losing in the back of the players’ and coaches’ minds, they know a quick turnaround could be crucial, beginning with a Wednesday meeting at home with Rutgers (6-11, 0-4).
“We’ve got to move forward,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “It’s one of those games — as I’ve told our guys, Sunday’s game has no bearing on Wednesday’s game. When you’ve won seven games in a row leading into that game, no game you won before won you that game. It’s all based on going out and performing and playing.”
Matta said that, despite how much success the team had enjoyed over the few weeks leading up to Sunday’s game, he expected games like that to happen because of the learning curve for his young team, which features zero seniors.
“I’ve said this all along, I think our margin of error is slim to none,” he said. “Not that we have to play perfect. We’ve shown we can win and not play perfect.”
Getting the train back on the tracks at a rapid pace to avoid a wreck can be a difficult thing for a team to accomplish. As sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate explained, that process begins with a strong week of practice, which he said he believes the team had done on Monday and Tuesday.
“The way we practice really has an impact on the way we play,” Tate said. “If we go in and have two great practices, we usually play extremely well, and yesterday’s practice was great.”
Tate’s fellow sophomore forward, Keita Bates-Diop, added that a loss like Sunday’s can be an important element to coming out with a new focus and intensity on the practice courts, which then extends to the next contest.
“We have to come out with the pain of last game, let it all come out in the game,” Bates-Diop said. “Forget about the game, but at the same time, show everybody that it’s not us. … We’ve got to come out in this next game and do everything we didn’t do last game.”
OSU and Rutgers are scheduled to square off at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center.
Looking at Rutgers
After going just 10-22, including a 2-16 mark in conference play in its first season as a member of Big Ten men’s basketball, things haven’t gone much better for Rutgers in its second year.
The Scarlet Knights have dropped each of their first four games in Big Ten play, including the last three by 20-plus points.
The Buckeyes had their way with Rutgers in the teams’ only meeting in 2015, winning 79-60. Former OSU guard D’Angelo Russell had a buzzworthy performance in that game, registering a triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
Still, with an offense featuring three players averaging double-digit scoring — led by freshman point guard Corey Sanders’ 13.3 points per game — Matta said he expects the Scarlet Knights to put a good number of points on the scoreboard on Wednesday.
“They’ve got guys that can just flat-out score,” Matta said. “They score within the offense, they break the offense … they’re a little of a different type of team, because they have a couple of different gears that we’ve got to be ready for.”
Finding a balance
Perhaps the only pleasant element for OSU against Indiana was freshman guard JaQuan Lyle, who exploded for 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting.
It has been a mercurial rookie season for the Evansville, Indiana, native, who had been averaging just 6.8 points per game in the four games prior to Sunday’s.
Matta said teaching Lyle to play his role on a consistent basis has been a challenging process, but he hopes Sunday’s career-high performance can help launch the freshman to the next level.
“I think that, when his time is done here, he’s going to be an incredible basketball player because it’s all going to come together for him,” Matta said. “I think he has a chance to be a complete basketball player, but we’ve just got to find that balance for him.”
While Lyle is trending up after an extended period of struggle, Tate is still embroiled right in the middle of a slump of his own.
After scoring in double figures in seven of OSU’s first 10 games, Tate has only reached the mark twice in the last seven. That came to a low point on Sunday, as he only made one shot in six attempts.
“It’s just been that a couple of teams have been doubling down in the post a little more, but that’s not an excuse,” Tate said. “The shots just aren’t falling. I’ve just got to concentrate more when I’m in the positions I’m in just to get the ball in the hole. And if they don’t fall, I still have to find a better way to impact the game.”
After the game against Rutgers on Wednesday, OSU is set to hit the road for an uphill battle against No. 3 Maryland on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for noon in College Park, Maryland.