Bob Hunter commentary: Can Foster turn around Buckeyes in second half?

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Seven games into the Big Ten women’s basketball schedule, Ohio State woke up this morning in a tie for last place.

This development would be more shocking if Penn State’s 71-56 drubbing hadn’t been so expected, but the presence of Ohio State at the bottom of the standings still makes you rub your eyes and look again.

For players in what has been the preeminent Big Ten program during most of the past decade — the Buckeyes won or shared the regular-season conference title every year from 2005 to 2010 — the view from the bottom can be disorienting.

“You can’t go any lower than this,” senior guard Tayler Hill said in a funeral voice. “You can only go higher. We can only go up from this point.”

The Buckeyes have endured some bumps during coach Jim Foster’s 11 seasons, most notably during the NCAA Tournament, but none has been as jarring as a 1-6 start in conference play.

Last place in the league is a place the Buckeyes have never had to go.

But Penn State’s victory dropped the Buckeyes into a tie with Wisconsin, and frankly, the Buckeyes’ 37-28 lead at halftime was more surprising than the loss. Penn State’s 43-19 advantage in the second half was closer to what most predicted, even though the Nittany Lions hadn’t won in Columbus since 2004.

“Like Coach Foster said, we have to find a way to play 40 minutes,” Hill said. “The game is 40 minutes, not 20 minutes. It’s just frustrating because we know we can play 40 minutes.”

It makes you wonder how the Buckeyes possibly could have landed in this miserable place. That they haven’t been able to recruit another Davenport and Lavender seems obvious, but injuries have compounded that. Losing sophomore forward Kalpana Beach to a knee injury was a blow; if she had played, she likely would have given the Buckeyes an offensive force down low they don’t have. And the loss of senior guard Amber Stokes to a sprained left knee on Jan. 6 — she returned in an abbreviated appearance yesterday — has clearly hurt.

But last?

“I don’t know what they’re missing,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “But what I do know about Ohio State is they always find a way. They’re a very prideful program, and they always find a way to straighten together some wins especially in the second half of conference play.”

The suspicion is that she is just being nice; in the second half, the talent gap between the two teams seemed pretty wide. But Foster does have a history of Big Ten success, which at least gives him a fighting chance.

When asked if he saw things with this team that convinced him the Buckeyes could do what Washington suggested, Foster lapsed into a long-winded end around that could have passed for a Jim Tressel impersonation.

To summarize, the Buckeyes have a talented freshman point guard in Ameryst Alston who “gets better every time she goes out … Darryce Moore’s gotta stay out of foul trouble,” Stokes is back, and Hill is no longer sick and won’t have to miss any more practice.

“So we’ll have all our pieces, and we’ll get in the gym Tuesday,” Foster said.

Interpreting Foster’s East Coast version of Tressel-ese can be tricky, but I think that meant “yes.”

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

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