Men's basketball: Matta tightens reins on Buckeyes
From the outside, Thad Matta’s coaching manual appears to be borrowed from the book Norman Vincent Peale wrote on positive thinking. Matta likes giving his Ohio State basketball players the freedom to play, lives with some of their mistakes and rarely disparages them in public.
Behind the scenes, like most coaches, he can be the “bad cop.” But he prefers the alternative. He wants to give his guys rope and expects them not to hang him with it.
For now, that rope has been reeled in. Three losses in four games, capped by a listless effort on Sunday at Wisconsin in which the Buckeyes responded to nothing Matta said or did to rouse them from the walking dead, has stripped them of the privilege. With five games left in the Big Ten season and their chances of winning a fourth straight title next to nil, a new sheriff is wearing Matta’s whistle.
“We had an amazing practice” on Monday, guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said yesterday. “Things were clicking for us. We showed a glimpse of that top-tier team we’re capable of (being).
“When we walked in the gym today, guys were feeling good, and Coach Matta immediately (said), ‘I don’t know what you guys are feeling good for. We just lost. It was embarrassing. We’re not going to let this go. We’re going to beat this drum until you guys realize that this can never happen again. Ever. In history.’ ”
Smith said he was feeling good about how he had practiced the day before, but Matta’s words “grounded me, kind of gave me an extra edge and hunger, and I think that’s what (made) me have a good practice today because I was angry at what just happened to us, and I didn’t like that feeling.”
Smith and forward Sam Thompson said the 22-point loss at Wisconsin, in which the Buckeyes gave up an 18-0 run in the first 11 minutes, was embarrassing.
“We embarrassed the program, we embarrassed the university, and we understand that’s something we can’t do,” Thompson said, “so we’re going to change that.”
Matta said yesterday he does not expect to change the starting lineup for the game tonight against Minnesota. What needs to change, he said, is the mindset. He said the players have to respect each team they play and the battle ahead, regardless the name on the jersey.
Ohio State’s victory at Wisconsin last season ended a nine-game losing streak at the Kohl Center. On Sunday, though, “for some reason, we just woke up, rolled out of bed and thought we were going to win,” Smith said. “I don’t know why. Even before we started the game, people weren’t taking it serious, and when the ball went up for the jump, it was all bad from there.”
So for now, at least, the players cannot be trusted to have themselves ready to play. No more rope. Matta said after the thumping on Sunday that the Buckeyes would not forget that game, and he reiterated it yesterday.
“You can’t forget,” he said. “That’s what’s clinging in my mind, the last time we played and how we played, and trying to do all we can to prevent that from happening again.”