It had been trending in this direction for a while, but now it seems the Ohio State men’s basketball team has truly hit rock bottom.
Since the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, the Buckeyes had been in a downward spiral toward the bottom of the Big Ten Conference. With Saturday’s 58-57 home loss to Nebraska, dropping OSU to 15-13, 5-10 in the Big Ten, the Scarlet and Gray have reached their lowest point in the 13 years coach Thad Matta has been in charge of the program.
“I’m like you — dumbfounded,” Matta said.
OSU led by seven at the final media timeout with 2:52 remaining on the clock. Over that stretch, Nebraska outscored the Buckeyes 11-3 and forced four OSU turnovers. OSU led by five with 32 seconds left.
But a turnover off a jump ball and a 3-point play conversion by Nebraska sophomore guard Glynn Watson Jr. quickly turned the tide against the Buckeyes.
The final punch was when senior guard Tai Webster blew up junior forward Jae’Sean Tate’s attempted handoff to senior forward Marc Loving, and Tate threw up a wild shot that missed.
With that loss, the 2016-17 season effectively became the first time under Matta that the Buckeyes will finish below .500 in the Big Ten, and the first time OSU will miss the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years — barring a miraculous run to a Big Ten tournament championship.
When told in the press conference that OSU would finish below .500 in conference, redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson let out a deep sigh, his anguish showing through. So, what was the mood like in the locker room following the loss?
“I don’t know,” Thompson said.
Understanding the nature of the descent of the basketball program for fans is puzzling, and definitely is also the case for Thompson. Nebraska was just a sliver of the decline, and was all the more perplexing.
“That little stretch right there, it wasn’t just the shot — that last war, you know,” Tate said. “Sending him to the line, getting the jump ball, turning it over, not communicating. When you do things like that back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, the outcome is going to be difficult to swallow.”
Since the 2013-14 season, OSU has won just one NCAA Tournament game and has finished as high as fifth in the conference over that span. Gone are the times OSU competed for a conference titles and were consistent participants in NCAA regionals.
Now records are scarred by home losses to Northwestern and Nebraska — not to mention nonconference home losses to Texas Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic the past two years. Northwestern’s win in Columbus was the team’s first since 1977, and Saturday was Nebraska’s first-ever win in Columbus.
OSU currently sits in 13th place of 14 teams in the Big Ten.
Matta couldn’t answer why OSU struggled against the zone on Saturday, when tearing it apart the first time around against Nebraska. Tate attributed it to a lack of thinking and not being on the same page — something that has become commonplace for a program rich in history.
“We got to be smarter,” Tate said. “We beat ourselves (Saturday). And we deserve it.”