Ohio State men's basketball: Early leads transform into losses

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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The week that was

Just when the Buckeyes felt they were building momentum for March, their roller coaster of a season crested and plunged again at Penn State and Indiana. In both games, they built a convincing lead in the first 13 minutes — 11 points at Penn State, eight at Indiana — only to lose momentum by halftime and never regain it in the second half. They couldn’t wrest the lead from Penn State in the final 15 minutes despite being tied three times, and they never regained the upper hand against the Hoosiers despite cutting their deficit to two with 15 minutes left and one with 9:22 remaining.

The week ahead

It will be a long bye week to dwell on the back-to-back losses before facing Michigan State on the final day of the regular season. It’s possible that neither team will have anything to play for if Michigan wins the conference title outright on Tuesday at Illinois (eliminating Michigan State) and Iowa or Nebraska win their final two games and one clinches the fourth and final first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament. OSU, now in sixth place in the standings, might have to play on the first day of the tournament for the first time since the 2004-05 season, Thad Matta’s first as coach.

How good are they?

Goodbye to the Associated Press top 25, probably for good unless the Buckeyes can defeat Michigan State and make a run in the conference tournament. The final AP ranking will be released on March 17, and the Buckeyes haven’t finished a season unranked since 2009, when they started the season unranked and never were higher than 15th. They started this season 11th and were as high as third for nine consecutive weeks in December and January. They began last week projected as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament but dropped a line after the loss at Penn State and could drop another after the loss at Indiana, which played without 6-foot-10 Noah Vonleh, the presumptive Big Ten freshman of the year.

Who's/what’s hot?

Aaron Craft was pretty heated at Penn State, presumably kicking open one door and flinging open another — from the sounds of the booms — on the way to and from his postgame interview. “Wasted opportunities,” he said. “We play great for a couple minutes, and then we just stop. We can’t do that.” Then the Buckeyes did it again at Indiana. Craft had three steals against the Hoosiers to tie Big Ten career leader Bruce Douglas of Illinois at 324. LaQuinton Ross had 19 points for the second game in a row but undermined the Buckeyes’ effort when he had to sit the last four minutes of the first half with two fouls after being assessed a technical, and the last 3:33 of the game after fouling out.

Who’s/what’s not?

The Buckeyes didn’t have a three-point basket for the first time in 10 years at Indiana, made only one shot outside the paint, their five assists against the Hoosiers were their fewest in a game in three years, and they had nearly three times as many turnovers (14) as assists. But it was the collapse of their defense in the second half that Matta and the players blamed for the loss. Indiana shot 56.5 percent after halftime, after Penn State shot 47.6 percent in the second half, and both opponents had assists on nearly two of every three of their field goals. Indiana’s 48 percent shooting for the game was the best against Ohio State in nine games. Craft had four of the Buckeyes’ five assists against Indiana but also committed two of his three turnovers and had a shot blocked in the last 31/2 minutes as he tried to bull his way to the basket in search of points. For the week, he had as many turnovers (eight) as assists.

Outside the lines

The timing for a popularity contest could be better for an OSU basketball player, but if anyone can rise above the current malaise, it might be the mop-topped, bespectacled sophomore guard, Amedeo Della Valle. The election of president and vice president of Undergraduate Student Government for the 2014-15 school year began yesterday with six teams of candidates on the ballot. Over the weekend, however, the basketball team’s managers uploaded a YouTube video of Della Valle seeking students’ write-in votes for president (Sam Thompson would be VP). Was it tongue-in-cheek? Could he really win? Stay tuned. Voting ends at midnight Wednesday.

Quotable

“I’m not panicking. I’m not worried about anything. When we’re on top of our game … I think we can beat any team in the country, and I’m going to stick by that. I’m going to stay on this boat, and I should be happy with what we produce at the end of the season if we come to play basketball like we’re supposed to.” — Lenzelle Smith Jr.

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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