Frustration is mounting in Columbus, with the team, coaching staff and fan base. It’s been like this way for awhile.
But after a disheartening loss to Iowa on Saturday and another single-digit home loss in a pivotal conference matchup, it doesn’t seem like the frustration around the Ohio State men’s basketball program will stop anytime soon.
With a 77-71 defeat at the hand of No. 17 Maryland on Tuesday, the Buckeyes (13-10, 3-7 Big Ten) continued their descent down the Big Ten standings.
The Terrapins (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten) remain in first place in the conference with the win, riding the performance of freshman forward Justin Jackson who had 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 4 for 7 from 3-point range.
Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate led OSU with 20 points. Senior forward Marc Loving had 18.
“We were playing on our heels defensively at the beginning of the game. They just sort of had their way with us,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “When guys are active, we’ve done a pretty good job. It’s got to be every possession. We got to get back to locking down on the defensive end.”
At four different times, OSU cut the deficit to a single point. Loving drilled a 3 with 7:10 to go. Tate scored a layup at the 4:54 and 4:10 mark, each answered by a Maryland field goal.
Sophomore guard C.J. Jackson hit two free throws with 2:35 on the clock, trailing the Terrapins 70-69. After a foul on the floor, Maryland’s go-to junior guard Melo Trimble buried a 3-ball to put the Terrapin lead back to four which sealed the game.
The one-point deficit was symbolic of OSU’s season and its inability to simply get over the hump.
“I think that at those certain times we have to believe that we have another gear,” Tate said. “You have to have even more of a sense of urgency. You have to want it a little more than the other team. At times, we did not do that.”
OSU also found itself down by double digits early in the second half, which has become a theme in Big Ten play. Maryland closed the half on a 7-0 run to lead 42-36 at the half, then came right out of the gate and scored a quick four points in the second half.
In the first four minutes before the first media timeout of each half, OSU gave up a combined 22 points. The Buckeyes also struggled with keeping Trimble and freshman guard Anthony Cowan out of the paint on drives to the basket. The two combined 22 points and nine of the team’s 15 assists.
On the defensive glass, another struggle for OSU this season, the Buckeyes stumbled on executing long closeouts and rotating when boxing out. Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle, particularly, was taken out of the game in the final 12 minutes despite being one of OSU’s best scorers.
Matta said that move was strategic in the fact that Jackson was playing better than Lyle and the matchup favored using Jackson. However, the lack of focus on the defensive end is a visible problem and a fixable one.
Aside from the opponent’s’ offensive rebounds and the ease that opponent’s guards have when driving the lane against OSU’s man-to-man defense, the effort and heart on the defensive end is worth questioning and it’s not something coaching can fix. It’s up to the player.
Tate said that it should be obvious for players that they have to play with grit on the defensive end. For those who don’t, he didn’t have an answer as to why that is.
“As the leaders on this team, we have to figure out ways to — if guys are in funks or if guys aren’t playing to the best of their ability — we have to figure out a way to lift them up,” he said. “But also, it’s on them to buy into us. We can’t lead if they don’t want to be led.”
Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a battle with the Wolverines at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Crisler Center. It’s the team’s only meeting this year.