Defense Loses Its Bite

By Jeff Rapp, March 5th, 2017

Many times this Ohio State men’s basketball season, the Buckeyes have resembled a dog chasing its tail. They just can’t seem to quite get to where they want to go.

On Saturday afternoon, that tail was Indiana’s offense, which allowed the hot-handed Hoosiers to jump out to an 11-0 lead in the game’s first 2 minutes, 18 seconds.

OSU spent much of the rest of the game trying to make up for that opening salvo, and when the Buckeyes finally caught up, IU stepped on the gas again.

The end result was a 96-92 win for the visiting Hoosiers, marking the most points by a dozen Ohio State has allowed at the Schottenstein Center. OSU previously gave up 84 points in three different games at The Schott, which has been home to the school’s basketball programs since 1998.

Indiana scored on 13 of its first 14 possessions, built the lead to as many as 18, and with yet another attempt dropping through the hoop just before the halftime buzzer the Hoosiers had 54 points on the board.

“I don’t want to say that we didn’t have anything, it’s just that they were on fire, “Ohio State junior forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “It seemed like every shot they were taking was going in.”

OSU head coach Thad Matta spent much of the first half burning timeouts, imploring his team to find some defensive intensity and quarreling with the referees. All the while, he stood in amazement at Indiana’s 22-of-34 shooting exhibition (64.7 percent) in the game’s first 20 minutes.

“We needed a cover over the basket,” Matta said. “They ere making shots at an alarming rate, and they just kept going and going and going and going. I didn’t think we were as aggressive defensively as we needed to be.

“The 54 at halftime, I don’t think we’ve ever given up that many points that I can think of. They were rolling. I give Indiana credit; they were on one today. We probably played 10 minutes of good defense.”

The loss dropped OSU to 17-14 overall and 7-11 in Big Ten play heading into whatever postseason remains. Matta has never posted fewer than 20 wins in a season in his previous 16 years as a head coach including one at Butler and three at Xavier.

OSU’s previous worst conference mark under Matta was 8-8, and that was back in his initial season of 2004-05. That league campaign concluded with one of the greatest wins in program history – a 65-64 upset of undefeated and top-ranked Illinois.

Since then it has seemed Senior Day was filled with more drama and excitement. However, Matta’s impressive run in home finales ended two years ago as the Buckeyes were shredded by Wisconsin, a loss that seemed to portend to rougher times.

Now, OSU is saddled with playing on Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., meaning the Buckeyes would need to win five days in a row to cut the nets and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. While that is highly unlikely, they have no choice but to trudge onward.

“We’ve just got to try to prepare and make a run in the tournament,” Tate said. “We’ve just got to work hard in practice. We’re not sure who we’re playing or when we’re playing but we’ve just got to go.”

Added Matta, “We’ll take a look at this, find out who our next opponent is, when we play, who we play. The only thing I know right now is it’s in Washington D.C. We’ve made some steady gains, I think, throughout the course of the last couple weeks but we’ve just got to find a way to keep playing the most consistent that we can.”

Indiana (17-14, 7-11) killed OSU on the perimeter, canning 12 of 23 threes and its guards also driving successfully to the basket. Robert Johnson was especially steamy – he hit 10 of 17 shots including 5 of 8 from deep after making just 7 of his last 42 three-point attempts over the course of six games.

James Blackmon Jr. added 22 points and Josh Newkirk chipped in 18. Meanwhile, fellow starters Juwan Morgan and Thomas Bryant were a combined 11 of 13 from the field.

The Buckeyes at least are to be commended for their comeback. They trailed 30-12 seven minutes into the contest and 54-40 at halftime but somehow grabbed a 62-61 lead with 11:37 remaining in the second half on a crowd-rousing three-pointer from C.J. Jackson.

Soon after, however, the Hoosiers produced a 10-0 run that was ignited by a jumper from Johnson and a three-pointer from Blackmon.

All that production was too much to match and spoiled the sendoff for senior win Marc Loving, who finished with 11 points. Tate led OSU with 20 points and his usual assortment of forays to the basket. Center Trevor Thompson recorded a double-double with 19 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

Sophomore guards Jackson and JaQuan Lyle each scored 18 for the Buckeyes, which fell before a hopeful crowd of 15,560. Now, one is left to wonder if OSU will get to play at home again in the NIT – and how many fans would show up to see consolation basketball.

Last year’s NIT win over Akron and season-ending loss to Florida came before crowds of 4,698 and 8,185, respectively.

Speculation also is likely to grow regarding Matta’s coaching future. On Saturday, he had an outspoken supporter in the form of Indiana head coach Tom Crean.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Thad,” Crean said. “When he is eligible, he has earned his way to the Hall of Fame – especially with what he’s been able to do here. You could see it at Butler and Xavier but you can really see it at Ohio State.

“We all hit skids. We have tons of respect for those players and for him.”