The week that was
Ohio State’s third-longest winning streak (15 games) under coach Thad Matta ended, but not before the team rallied from 17 points down to force overtime at Michigan State. The Spartans prevailed in a series that has seen the past six games decided by a total of 24 points. Returning home was not a tonic for the Buckeyes. After a season-high 21 turnovers at Michigan State, they had 17 against Iowa, which ended an eight-game losing streak against them and won at Value City Arena for the first time since Feb. 15, 2004. The Hawkeyes’ 84 points were the most against the Buckeyes since Massachusetts had 85 in the 2008 NIT championship game.
The week ahead
The road beckons, which will make it more difficult for the Buckeyes (15-2, 2-2 Big Ten) to nip this losing streak in the bud. As Iowa was, Minnesota and Nebraska are looking for signature wins after recent near-misses. Under new coach Richard Pitino, Minnesota lost its Big Ten opener to Michigan by three points, and Saturday the Gophers took Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing. Nebraska lost by a point to Michigan in the only home game it has had in a five-game losing streak, and a midweek bye will give the Cornhuskers a week to rest up for the Buckeyes.
How good are they?
With perimeter shooting that ebbs more than it flows and no post presence on offense, Ohio State has been living off its defense and straddling a small margin for error all season. It was difficult to believe the Buckeyes were the No. 3 team in the nation, and now they’re not. They fell eight spots in the latest Associated Press top 25 yesterday and, at No. 11, are back to the spot at which they started the season.
Sam Thompson and freshman Marc Loving gave Ohio State a huge lift off the bench in the comeback at Michigan State, so much so that Matta left his top two scorers, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr., on the bench for the last seven minutes of regulation and all five of overtime before subbing in Smith for the final possession. Matta’s four reserves, in fact, have better plus-minus breakdowns than most of the starters through the first four games of the Big Ten season and have outscored the other teams’ benches 91-60 in the past three games. In conference play, Loving is the team’s third-leading scorer and has made and attempted the second-most number of free throws despite ranking seventh in minutes.
The Buckeyes need Smith to balance the offense by scoring on the other side of the floor from Ross, but he has scored only 20 points the past three games and has a negative plus-minus in conference play. Meanwhile, the team’s other senior, Aaron Craft, had 10 turnovers in the two losses, an astounding number for someone who came into the week averaging fewer than two per game and had none in the Buckeyes’ first two conference games. He also fouled out for the first time this season. Amir Williams had some moments in helping Ohio State outrebound Michigan State by 14 but wasn’t enough of a defensive presence against Iowa. The Hawkeyes scored 44 points in the lane and had only one shot blocked — by 6-foot-1 Shannon Scott.
Outside the lines
Former Ohio State basketball standouts David Lighty and Tayler Hill have been a couple since they were students — Lighty shared an off-campus apartment with Hill’s older brother, P.J. — and now they are expecting their first child. Lighty is playing professionally in Paris, and Hill, in her WNBA offseason, is spending time there. Matta was asked whether he already is recruiting the Lighty-Hill progeny. “That could be a special child,” he acknowledged.
“He played with great energy. He did not seem to tire. They were going after him. They put Craft on him essentially to try to shut him down and he just kept coming. When he does that, it really reflects positively on the other guys in terms of their confidence level and how they play.” — Iowa coach Fran McCaffery on senior guard Roy Devyn Marble, who had 22 points, three assists and three steals against Ohio State and was named Big Ten player of the week yesterday.