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January 13, 2014

Asking yourself why

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Somewhere between exasperated and dejected, Aaron Craft walked into Ohio State's postgame press conference, took his seat at the podium and looked at the game's final stat sheet after a 10-point loss to Iowa Sunday.

He puckered his lips and shook his head in silence. Next came a question that took aim at what appeared to be eating at the senior guard and floor leader.

"Aaron, I think down the stretch when they were able to pull away at the free throw line, at one point you guys had five turnovers in 11 possessions," one reporter asked. "I think you've got 38 turnovers in the last two games. What's happened to the ball handing all of the sudden."

Craft had an immediate and somewhat snippy answer.

"I don't know," he said while shuffling in his seat. "It's on us."

Maybe it's so frustrating because it's so obvious.

"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," Craft said as his rosy cheeks seemed to burn a bit more red than normal.

"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."

It's why the Buckeyes -- which started the season 15-0 -- find themselves reeling after back-to-back losses to the Hawkeyes and Michigan State Tuesday for the first time since February. It's why Ohio State lost its first game within the comfy confines of the Schottenstein Center in as equally a long amount of time. But perhaps most of all, it's why the way the Buckeyes lost Sunday might be considerably more alarming than the loss itself.

"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," coach Thad Matta 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.

"We knew not to throw the ball to a certain area against a certain defense and we did and we turn it over. That's the thinking of the game."

Consider junior forward LaQuinton Ross, who led Ohio State with 22 points but committed five turnovers -- including a pair of miscues in the game's waning minutes -- a student of such a school of thought. Better yet, consider him an example of a larger trend with Matta's crew -- a team that, for every effective play or set, has a series that's equally futile.

"We watched film on them, we seen what they was gonna do. We seen everything they did out on the court tonight, we seen that on film we made poor decisions with the ball," Ross said.

"We knew that they was gonna try to jump some passes -- some of those passes they got steals on, we seen that in film. So we knew they was gonna do that and we still went out and we did the same thing."

But why?

"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. Obviously they're a great team, have played against great competition all year and that's not what they do."

That simply won't happen in a Big Ten that might be as deep and competitive as any league in the country this season. Uneven, incongruent play won't bode well for the Buckeyes.

"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," Matta said.

"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."

Now nearing the middle of January, Ohio State doesn't have a ton of time to figure it out.

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