Teams with a small margin for error cannot afford to eschew the small things that can be the difference between winning and losing.
That, again, was the difference for Ohio State on Thursday in a 65-63 loss at Penn State. It could well be again today when the No. 22 Buckeyes play their next-to-last game of the Big Ten season at Indiana, which is scuffling to avoid finishing with a losing record in the conference a year after winning the championship outright.
Five of Ohio State’s Big Ten wins have been by nine points or fewer. Four of its losses have been by six points or fewer, including two in overtime.
“Small things win you games and small things lose you games,” coach Thad Matta said after the loss at Penn State, “and tonight the little things lost us the game.”
Asked yesterday what those were, Matta said, “Converting free throws in a timely fashion, when we need them. Being where we need to be, on the same page, offensively. Spacing. Timing up the cuts with when the pass is supposed to be delivered. Penetrating at the angle we want to penetrate as opposed to 4 feet the other way. Screening the top foot (of the defender) as opposed to the bottom foot. … I could go on forever.”
Asked whether it blows his mind that, nearly 30 games into the season, his players sometimes still lack an attention to such detail, Matta said, “When our minds aren’t right? Yeah.
“That just tells you the concentration wasn’t there, and a lot of that is on Shannon (Scott) and Aaron (Craft). We were going way too quick (on offense) the other night, and the table wasn’t set, as we term it, for (the other) guys.
“The table has to be set. When we initiate something and a guy is on his way to where he’s supposed to be and he’s not there, that’s a major small thing that blows up, and that happened.
“We had a guy stop and tie his shoe twice during the game, and we didn’t start our offense until there were 22 seconds on the (shot) clock, and we had wasted possessions on those two possessions. Those are small things, and those are things we’ve got to get corrected.”
Time is growing ever shorter for the Buckeyes (22-7, 9-7), who already have the most Big Ten losses by an Ohio State team in five years. Today’s game and the home finale next Sunday against Michigan State are all that is left of the regular season for the Buckeyes. They are guaranteed only two more games beyond that, in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
If they want to play more, they have to play like they want to, not just say they do.
“It’s just a focus thing,” Scott said. “We’ve all got to be on the same page throughout the whole game or we’re not going to win games. That’s clearly what happened against Penn State.”
Scott said the loss “cuts us deep, but we can’t dwell on it. We’ve got to be men and move on.”
Matta said he isn’t worried about whether his players’ confidence took another hit on Thursday. His only concern is that they’re ready to play better today.
“Being 25 games or whatever we are into the season, you’ve got to man up,” he said. “You’ve got to carry your weight around here and get the job done.”