January 6, 2013

Buckeyes find similar struggles in losses

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- No. 8 Ohio State's 74-55 loss to No. 11 Illinois on Saturday marked its third defeat in as many attempts against ranked opponents. And as was the case in their losses to Duke and Kansas in the out-of-conference portion of their schedule, familiar problems plagued the Buckeyes.

OSU shot 33.3 percent from the field against the Fighting Illini, connecting on just 20 of its 60 shot attempts. That brings the Buckeyes' shooting percentage in its three losses to an underwhelming 32.6 percent, an alarming statistic that underscores an OSU rotation that features one primary shooter in Dehsaun Thomas, and a plethora of players who are best suited scoring in transition.

The Buckeyes' offensive unbalance has made itself apparent in their three losses, where Thomas is averaging 18.6 points per game, while OSU's second leading scorer in those games has averaged 12.3 points per game.

Following his team's loss to Illinois, OSU coach Thad Matta admitted that it will be tough for his team to win games with dismal shooting performances like the ones that they've seen in their three losses.

"We threw everything we had. At some point you've got to make a couple of shots and sort of open things up and give yourself an opportunity to space the floor," Matta said. "We couldn't get that done today."

In an effort to spark something- anything- Matta toyed with different lineup combinations that had not been seen from the Buckeyes all season. At one point, Thomas- a 6-foot-7 forward, manned the center position, alongside 6-foot-8 forward LaQuinton Ross, and guards Lenzelle Smith Jr., Aaron Craft, and Shannon Scott.

Nothing seemed to work for Ohio State, who failed to cut the Illini's lead to any fewer than 14 points in its largest defeat of the season.

"We were trying anything that we could. Our guys did a pretty job competing, playing hard down the stretch, but just we needed a break," Matta said. "Unfortunately, you have games like this, but you hope they're few and far between."

Also indicative of the Buckeyes struggles on Saturday was their failure to take advantage of 18 Illinois turnovers. That's because Matta's squad committed 16 of its own, which the Illini turned into 17 points against an OSU team that trailed by double-digits for the final 23 minutes of the game.

"You're down 12 at halftime, you give up 16 points off turnovers and you're a team that doesn't turn the ball over," Matta said. "That's the big thing right there."

With still much to prove in the remainder of Big Ten play, the Buckeyes won't have to wait long to take another stab at picking up their first win on the road and first win over a ranked opponent this season. OSU will travel to West Lafayette, Ind. on Tuesday for a 9 p.m. tipoff with Purdue, before hosting second-ranked Michigan next Sunday at the Schottenstein Center.

As the Buckeyes fall to 1-1 in conference play, they'll have plenty of opportunities in the coming months to prove that they can knock down shots when it matters most.

"We gotta learn from this, we gotta pick ourselves up and get ready to go Tuesday," Matta said.


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