Bob Hunter commentary: Another elite puts OSU in its place
The Ohio State basketball team’s season-long search for its identity still has some ground to cover, but its 81-68 loss to top-ranked Indiana at least tidied up some messy details.
If the Buckeyes still don’t know exactly who they are, they almost certainly know who they are not. This one-sided game cast the teams in stark contrast.
The Hoosiers might or might not be No. 1 — they came in with a top ranking they seemed likely to lose because of a midweek loss to Illinois — but they played like it against a Buckeyes team that mostly looked outgunned and overmatched.
The Buckeyes can make a sound case for good. They have no argument for great. They are 1-4 against teams in the top five, having split with Michigan and lost to Indiana, Duke and Kansas, teams who, along with Florida, have had legitimate claims on the top spot.
With the exception of Michigan, all of those teams have an edge on Ohio State in talent and experience. Yesterday’s game seemed to emphasize that.
“We are who we are,” OSU coach Thad Matta said, “and we’ve got to find ways to keep looking, dissecting what we’re doing and find ways. This team has shown that it can play great basketball, and we’ve got to somehow, some way, challenge ourselves to get better every time we take the floor.”
Both performances against Michigan were impressive, and the Buckeyes held their own in a difficult environment at Duke. Still, the record shows that what we saw against Indiana yesterday was no mirage: OSU is 1-6 against ranked teams and 16-0 against everyone else.
“We knew we were going against as physical a team as we would have played at his point,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “We knew we were going into as tough of an environment as we have played in to this point, and Ohio State is the real deal. They are the real deal because they have a front line, the real deal because they have a backcourt, but most importantly, they are the real deal because they absolutely get up into you defensively.”
Top-five trumps a “real deal” apparently. The Hoosiers have three players — Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo — who are a handful to defend, and they decisively won that battle: Oladipo scored 26, Zeller 24 and Watford 20.
By contrast, the Buckeyes’ season-long search to find a consistent scorer to go with Deshaun Thomas was evident again yesterday. Even though Aaron Craft had 16 points and LaQuinton Ross had 11 off the bench, there were long stretches where Thomas — he scored 26 — seemed the lone offensive option.
“I’m probably more concerned that we didn’t execute at the level we needed to execute today,” Matta said. “First possession of the second half, great execution, bucket. Then all of a sudden, we didn’t have it. We didn’t make the right reads, we didn’t get the ball where we needed it in a timely fashion. Give them credit, they disrupted us a little bit. But we had to find ways to impose our will on them and make them guard us.”
The Hoosiers were able to do that; the Buckeyes were not. Indiana hit 53 percent of its shots. When that happens, or when the opponent scores 70 points or more, the Buckeyes are likely to lose. They are 1-5 when their opponents hit 70, so there’s little margin for error.
Part of the problem yesterday was that sophomore center Amir Williams picked up two quick fouls and spent a big chunk of the game on the bench. The effort part of the problem was more troubling.
“We definitely didn’t have the same effort we did last game,” Craft said. “That’s on us. (We have to do) whatever it is we have to to bounce back. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played.”
But there is no denying that this one delivered some sobering news, hard on the heels of an overtime loss at Michigan that seemed to portend so much promise.
The Buckeyes might be “the real deal,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still a work in progress.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.