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January 19, 2014

Not rock bottom, not yet

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a 22-point loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 17 in which the Badgers gutted, dismembered and dismissed then-floundering Ohio State from the Kohl Center, coach Thad Matta assembled his team for a meeting that still seems to resonate nearly a year later.

For somewhat obvious reasons, it's easy to try and conflate this season's Buckeyes and their three-game losing streak with the dismal, dismantling defeat that marked a team spiraling out of control down the stretch in 2013. At the time, Matta and company had lost their third game in four attempts and the setback in Madison, Wis., had them reeling.

"I think it was a combination of getting embarrassed and not respecting the game of basketball," junior point guard Aaron Craft.

"When we got back and we had a big team meeting after that game and kinda just looked each other in the eye and said, 'Hey -- we're the only ones left in our corner now so we can't rely on anyone else.' It's on us to find a way to get better, it's on us to find a way to pick ourselves up and, as a team, I thought we did a great job of doing that and as we had a little more success, we stayed with each other, we didn't worry about all the people that started coming back in corner. We just wanted to keep moving forward and this could be very similar."

Craft's right. After the drubbing against Wisconsin, Ohio State went on a 11-game winning streak before losing to Wichita State in the Elite Eight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and, sure, this year could follow suit.

But it doesn't feel like the Buckeyes' corner has emptied out just yet. After all, Ohio State started the season 15-0 before dropping consecutive contests to Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota in the span of nine days and the Big Ten just might be the deepest conference in college basketball.

"There's gonna be peaks and valleys to it and as I told the guys the other night, we're at the bottom -- we've lost three games in a row. There's only one way we can go up and there's only team that can change that and that's us and that's kind of where we are. But knowing that just because we say we're ready doesn't mean it's going to be easy. We've gotta prepare ourselves to fight and you've gotta fight every possession," Matta said.

But there's probably little disgrace in dropping games to the likes of the No. 3 Spartans and No. 14 Hawkeyes but the infrequency of such a feat might be worrisome. The last time Matta's crew lost back-to-back-to-back games was in 2009. The last time Craft and his teammates lost this many in a row? Maybe never.

"This is tough. You go down the line of the guys on the team and I don't think any of us have ever lost three games in a row at any level," Craft said.

"It's different, it's kinda unchartered territory for everyone. You don't really know how to feel, you don't really know how to really kind of start going forward once the game was over."

After its 63-53 loss to Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn., Ohio State didn't have the kind of all-hands-on-deck, emergency session it did after last year's drubbing against the Badgers.

"We haven't had a meeting like we did after Wisconsin yet and hopefully we don't need one," Craft said.

Junior center Amir Williams shuttered.

"We don't need that meeting," he mumbled.

It might depend on how the Buckeyes play against Nebraska Monday in Lincoln, Neb.

"They're not gonna feel sorry for us, they seem to have another energy level when they play at home in front of all those fans on their new floor and new arena so it's gonna be another challenge. It's not gonna be anything like the game we had in here, that seems like forever ago," Craft said of a 31-point win against the Cornhuskers on Jan. 4 in Columbus.

That was Ohio State's last win. No wonder it feels like it's been an eternity.



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