February 18, 2013
Buckeyes in search of a turnaround
Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Thad Matta had seen this game before. Even between the same two teams. Only this time, the Ohio State head coach had a different feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Watching Wisconsin dominate his team to a 71-49 victory on Sunday, Matta was transported back to March 6, 2011, when the Buckeyes beat down the Badgers by a score of 93-65. Only this time, the OSU head man now understood how Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan felt in Columbus nearly two years ago.
"I'm sitting over there like, 'My gosh, I've seen this before but I've been on the other side of it,'" Matta said. "I don't know. Whatever I did didn't work in terms of getting this team to, not even so much to win a game, but just to compete at the level we needed to compete at to give ourselves a chance."
Sans for the first four minutes of the game, where the Buckeyes and Badgers each raced out to six quick points, Ohio State never did stand much of a chance inside of the Kohl Center on Sunday. Wisconsin's subsequent 18-0 run put the game out of reach for the Buckeyes, who trailed by as many as 26 points on Sunday afternoon.
For a team that currently sits fifth in the Big Ten standings and has now amassed a 1-7 record against ranked opponents, there have been a number of lows for OSU this season, but don't be mistaken, this was rock bottom. This wasn't the Buckeyes being unprepared for their first conference road game like they were in their Jan. 5 loss to Illinois. This was Ohio State being outmanned and out-hustled on both ends of the floor, in what was ultimately the largest margin of defeat that the program has suffered since Dec. 31, 2009.
"This is a team you've played before. This is a team you just played two weeks ago," Matta said of Wisconsin. "I didn't see a whole lot of positives from any of my guys out there today."
The bad news for the Buckeyes is obvious. Three games back for the lead in the Big Ten standings and with five regular season league games remaining, a fourth consecutive conference title seems less than likely, as does a top three-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
That doesn't, however, mean that a silver lining can't exist in Ohio State's third loss in four games.
After all, it was just one season ago that the Buckeyes dropped three of five games in the month of February, falling to the No. 11 slot in the Associated Press Top-25 poll. Rather than heading into a tailspin, that OSU team rallied to win a share of the Big Ten regular season title, before advancing to Final Four.
As of Sunday, Matta doesn't see any reason why this year's Buckeyes' team can't find similar surprising success, although he's well aware that it will require plenty of work and on both the part of his players and himself.
"You've got to have ownership now. You've got to have a level of playing at the level you need to play at every time you take the floor," Matta said. "Even last year, you go to the Final Four, two years ago 34-3, I was still trying to find the buttons to push all the way to the end."
Whether this year's OSU squad's latest skid is just a sign of things to come or gets used as a source of motivation remains to be seen. But wherever the Buckeyes wind up- for better or worse- their loss to Wisconsin could very well be the catalyst for getting them there.
"We won't forget this basketball game," Matta promised.
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