BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It took nearly all of February for Ohio State to regain the swagger it had before it absorbed five losses in six games in January.
It took three days for the Buckeyes to lose it all again.
“We were rolling,” coach Thad Matta said, “until Thursday night.”
Losers by two points at last-place Penn State on Thursday, the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes doubled up with a 72-64 setback to eighth-place Indiana at Assembly Hall yesterday and fell into sixth place in the Big Ten with one week remaining in the regular season.
Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) has not finished lower than sixth in the Big Ten under Matta; it was sixth in his first season, 2004-05.
“I think we’re really lacking in a confidence issue, we’re lacking in a toughness issue in terms of playing through situations. Those are things that somehow, some way we’ve got to get corrected,” Matta said after his team gave up a game-changing 21-5 run to close the first half, then watched Indiana shoot 56.5 percent in the second despite missing 6-foot-10 freshman Noah Vonleh, who sat out the game because of inflammation in his left foot.
Yogi Ferrell scored 20 points and Will Sheehey 19 for Indiana (17-12, 7-9).
“Whatever number defense we have in the country, that wasn’t our defense that we normally play at the end of the game,” senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. said.
Smith and LaQuinton Ross had 19 points each for Ohio State, which scored 24 of its 25 field goals in the paint. The Buckeyes were 0 of 11 from three-point range, the first time since 2004 (at Penn State) that they did not make one in a game.
They also made only 14 of 23 free throws. Five of the misses came in the last seven minutes of the first half, when Ohio State’s 20-12 lead turned into a 33-25 halftime deficit.
“We just get too comfortable at times during the game, thinking we’ve got the lead and we’re going to be able to hold it, not thinking that those other teams we’re playing are just as good as us,” Ross said. “They’re putting their foot on the gas, and we’re taking ours off.”
It didn’t help that the Buckeyes’ big men, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald, were on the bench during the run with two fouls apiece, negating the size advantage Ohio State had with Vonleh absent.
“The switching (on screens) when they went smaller was a big thing for us,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “We got good shots.”
Nor did it help when Ross went to the bench with his second foul at 4:06 after he was assessed a technical for shoving Austin Etherington of Indiana after Etherington ripped the ball from Ross’ grasp after a whistle. It was Ross’ second technical in four games for shoving an opponent.
Ross fouled out with 3:33 left and Ohio State trailing by seven.
“Little things,” Matta said. “Those are the type of things that just say, hey, we’ve got to get our concentration back, get our focus back, an understanding of what we’re doing.”
Ohio State cut its halftime deficit to two points with 15 minutes to play and to one with 9:22 remaining. But back-to-back three-pointers by Evan Gordon and Sheehey, the latter with 8:24 left, killed the Buckeyes’ momentum, and they could not get closer than five points after that.
“We had held them to 12 points with like eight minutes to go (in the first half). We were playing (great defense) even when we weren’t scoring,” Matta said. “We never got it back to where we needed it.”