Men's basketball: Buckeyes not holding up in final minutes of big games
Coach Thad Matta’s Buckeyes are 1-5 against ranked teams, often getting outscored late.
Given the fact he had a horse in the race, Ohio State coach Thad Matta tuned in Thursday night to watch his team’s next opponent, No. 1 Indiana, play Illinois.
What he saw, among other things, was more of what he has seen for the past six weeks in the Big Ten, he said, “the (scoring) runs that have transpired” in just about every game.
“Illinois just got rolling the last four minutes there,” Matta said. “Amazing finish.”
It was a finish the 10th-ranked Buckeyes would love to reproduce at Indiana’s expense when the teams meet this afternoon at Value City Arena. For that to happen, though, Ohio State likely will have to play better at the end than it has in its other games against high-level opponents.
“We’ve got to keep putting our foot on the pedal,” forward Deshaun Thomas said yesterday. “Sometimes, we stop working.”
Trailing by 10 points on Thursday, Illinois outscored Indiana 15-3 in the final 4:04 and upset the Hoosiers 74-72 by scoring the winning basket just before the final buzzer.
Two nights earlier, Ohio State led for most of the second half at No. 3 Michigan and was ahead by four points with less than four minutes remaining. But the Wolverines erased the margin in less than 30 seconds, matched baskets with the Buckeyes in the final 21/2 minutes and had a shot to win the game at the end of regulation. They prevailed 76-74 in overtime by holding Ohio State to one basket in seven possessions.
“We’ve had trouble finishing games,” guard Aaron Craft said afterward. “In regulation, we finished pretty well, but we didn’t finish in the overtime.”
There is a fine line between the Buckeyes being 9-1 in the Big Ten and 7-3, which they are. Besides the two-point loss at Michigan, they lost by three at Michigan State after they botched their final possession.
They are 1-5 against ranked teams this season, with four of the losses coming on the road. In their only such victory, at home against Michigan last month, they led by six points with four minutes left and won by three when Trey Burke’s tying three-point attempt rattled in and out as the game ended.
In the six games against ranked opponents, the Buckeyes have been outscored in the final four minutes in four of them. The only two games in which they were not, against Kansas and Illinois, they trailed by double figures with four minutes left.
Matta said players have to have a focus on the game plan at all times, but it must be even sharper in the final minutes.
“Maybe taking a deep breath and saying, ‘OK, what do I have to do at this particular juncture of the game?’ ” he said.
Matta said he was fine with the shots the Buckeyes got in the overtime at Michigan, and with their defense, too. The Wolverines’ only field goal was a challenged three-pointer by Burke as the shot clock expired on their first possession.
“We just didn’t put the ball in the basket like we needed to,” Matta said.