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January 12, 2014

Turnovers doom Ohio State

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In its last two games, Ohio State has turned the ball over 38 times. It cost the third-ranked Buckeyes against Michigan State Tuesday in an overtime loss. A similar fate awaited them Sunday against Iowa.

"I don't know. It's on us. We knew they were gonna press, knew they were gonna do what they did and we just weren't ready to take care of the ball," senior guard Aaron Craft said.

"There comes a point where you just gotta make smart decisions and do what you need to do to protect the ball and we're not doing that."

After leading by as many as nine points almost midway through the second half, Ohio State couldn't overcome 17 turnovers and an outing that saw it collapse down the stretch before falling to Iowa, 84-74, Sunday afternoon at the Schottenstein Center.

Thad Matta seems like he's still trying to make sense of it.

"I gotta figure that out, I think from the standpoint of just the decision making we made I think the biggest thing getting our guys understanding is you can't let one mistake compound into another mistake and that was kinda what happened to us today," the Buckeyes coach said.

"We played some really good basketball. So did Iowa, they're a great team. But it's that consistency and understanding what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done and, a lot of times, it's connecting the dots in terms of passing, catching."

Such appeared to be an arduous process against a Hawkeyes team that might've just won its biggest game in recent memory under coach Fran McCaffery.

"We've had a few. My first year, we're trying to establish something we beat the fifth-ranked team Purdue on the last day of the season. That was huge, it was huge for momentum for our program in terms of making a step. Second year we beat four ranked teams," he said, "but this is the first time we've done it on the road so I think from that standpoint that's a fair assessment."

Of course, for Ohio State, the loss is its first at home since stumbling to then top-ranked Indiana in early February and first set of back-to-back defeats since then, too.

"Well we didn't do a good enough job taking care of the basketball but we didn't finish. We had some chances down there around the rim and they had a stretch where they hit the three-straight threes I think it was and we were slow reacting," Matta said. "We didn't run guys off the line, we give up a one-pass backdoor for a layup. Those are things that can't happen in this caliber of a game.

"Obviously we didn't make the plays we needed to not only maintain the lead but win the basketball game we didn't have, offensively, the connection we needed for whatever reason. I don't know what that was."

But it seemed to be there for Iowa, which blasted Ohio State in the paint for 44 points -- 30 of which came in the first half. Though junior forward LaQuinton Ross tallied 22 points after a shaky outing against Michigan State earlier in the week, the Buckeyes appeared discombobulated save for an early, second-half stretch that looked like it might be the difference in the game.

After trailing, 37-35, at intermission, Ohio State -- largely behind the offensive play of Ross -- began to surge past Iowa and a zone defense that gave it fits in the first half.

"In the beginning and when they made their run, the zone was breaking down a little bit," McCaffery said. "We debated going back to the man, staying with the zone we opted to stay with the zone."

It would pay dividends.

Trailing by nine points with 12:49 to play, senior guard Roy Devyn Marble knocked down a pair of free throws before sophomore guard Mike Gesell, junior forward Aaron White and sophomore forward Jarrod Uthoff buried back-to-back-to-back threes to suddenly tie the contest at 55.

The two teams would tussle for the lead, but turnovers -- eight specifically from about the 13-minute mark -- ultimately doomed the Buckeyes in trying to reasset dominance in the contest.

"I think we go through stretches where we want things to be easy, we don't want them to make a run when we're up nine," Craft said. "We want them to just die, you know? And they're not gonna do that."

Now, Ohio State -- which started the season 15-0 -- finds itself in a precarious position before heading to Minneapolis, Minn., to play the Golden Gophers Thursday.

"You look at the climate of college basketball and what transpires and we were in this exact same position last year. We go to Michigan, get beat in overtime, come home, get beat by Indiana. I think the biggest challenge is making sure that our minds are where they need to be in terms of what we have to do to get better and we're so far from the end of the finish line to panic or anything like that. I've never done that, I won't do that," Matta said.

"It's looking at our guys and saying, 'OK, what do we have to do.' How do we find a better way to teach or get them to understand what has to be done, when it has to be done, how it needs to be done and play with the consistency. This team has shown that it can play some great basketball. We played some great basketball today but it's that togetherness on both ends of the floor. We did some things earlier in the game today that were very uncharacteristic.

"As I told the guys at halftime, I said, 'Everybody's had a moment out there in the first half kinda like what are you doing then all of the sudden you played some great basketball.' That's where I think we've got to find our stride, we've got to understand who we are and how we play our best basketball."

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