February 26, 2008

Bucks come up short in late comeback

BLOOMINGTON - Stop me if you think you have heard this one before… Ohio State plays one good half and one dismal half but when you get the sum of the two parts the Buckeyes come oh-so-close but can't get over the hump. Ohio State spotted the Hoosiers a 13-point lead in the first half but chipped away at the Indiana lead to close the gap to one point but couldn't get any closer as the Hoosiers (24-4, 13-2) made shots when it mattered while the Buckeyes (17-11, 8-7) found ways to not convert en route to a 72-69 loss to stretch the losing streak to three games with four to go.

Kosta Koufos led Ohio State with 21 points with 18 coming in the second half while Evan Turner had 13 on the night. Super freshman Eric Gordon had 17 points but was held to 4-16 shooting on the night but Armon Bassett picked up the slack dropping in a game high 23 points.

The Buckeyes have been no stranger to first half holes trailing 27-7 at Michigan State (Michigan State won 66-60) and 23-14 at Tennessee (Tennessee won 74-69) so Tuesday night was just another example of the team falling behind and then making a furious run only to come up short. Does it take the shock of a double digit deficit to kick this team into gear?

"Unfortunately that may be what it is but we have got to get that corrected because as I said I thought we dug ourselves into a hole today that we just weren't able to get out of completely," Matta said. "We were right there peeking out but just couldn't get over it."

The road has been a terrible place for the Bucks especially in league play where the team is now 3-6 on the road with the only three wins coming against the conference's No. 9, 10 and 11 teams. During the first 17 minutes of the game it seemed as if this game could have easily become the worst of the nine league road games.

"We have to start off with fire," guard Evan Turner said. "They had a couple plays that kind of discouraged us and you could see.

Ohio State was able to cut into lead with an Evan Turner dunk off of a steal and a Jamar Butler long jumper to close it to 30-21 at the half but in all honestly the nine point margin felt much wider after what could be characterized as a sloppy first half where the Buckeyes shot 31-percent from the field and hit 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. Conversely the Hoosiers were not playing lights out on their own end but 12 offensive rebounds and an eight total rebound edge gave Indiana the edge to control the first half most of the way.

"We got off to such a bad start for whatever reason and the rebounding got us, I think they had five or six of their first few back," Matta said. "I thought our guys, where we are right now, asking them to stay together in this environment tonight I was very pleased with how they continued to fight."

During the halftime intermission the Buckeyes stressed the importance of rebounding and trying to get the ball down to Koufos in the low block and the team heard both messages loud and clear with Ohio State outrebounding Indiana 17-14 in the half and having the Ohio State center convert of 7-12 in the second 20 minutes. The Bucks knew that Koufos could have success in the paint even with the presence of D.J. White down low.

"When we looked at the game film that is what should have happened," Turner said. "Koufos scored and they can't hold him and they didn't want to foul him and they didn't want to guard him and that's what happened."

Matta was pleased with the effort of his big man and why not, Koufos scored 15 of Ohio State's first 20 points of the half and at the 11-minute mark the freshman hit a jumper to close the game to one point at 42-41.

"We made some of the open looks that we had but I thought that we got Kosta down low and he did a very nice job of finishing," Matta said.

The modest freshman was pleased with how he opened up the half.

"I just played my hardest and I felt that I executed well," Koufos said.

But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and unfortunately for the Buckeyes the next several sequences were set to self-destruct.

Ohio State had a bad break go against them when White followed his own miss for a tip in through Matt Terwilliger but it was par for the course in a game where the officials let both teams play and called few contact plays. After a missed three pointer from Jon Diebler the Hoosiers opened it back up to six after a Bassett three pointer.

The Buckeyes would make another run and after Turner nailed a three pointer to make it 49-46 it appeared that Ohio State could cut into the lead more with a 3-on-1 break that ended up with Turner being surprised by the pass and fumbling the ball out of bounds. Little mistakes cost the Buckeyes all night long and kept them chasing the entire way.

We got our head back into it and we were more than capable of winning this game but just a couple of instances where I dropped one out of bounds and we had a couple of post-ups that could have been fouls down there but it happens, it was a tough and hard fought game," Turner said.

This isn't the first game where the ball didn't bounce right for Ohio State and after a tough home loss to Wisconsin the Buckeyes have heard this song before.

"We have got to get a break sooner or later," Turner said. "The other night we had seven or eight lay-ups that went in and out and they had a couple of lay-ups that stayed on the rim for eight seconds. Tonight every time we came back just something happened, the ball comes off the rim and bounces for times and they pick up. I think we will be fine and just have to keep our heads up and keep going (forward) and not go backwards."

Despite giving up 42 points in the second half the Ohio State defense did a lot to help set up the Ohio State offense.

"We did a better job of moving the basketball and quite honestly we were getting stops which enabled us to get out and hit a little bit quicker and there was more movement where we were trying to go with," Matta said.

Ohio State outscored Indiana by six in the second half but it was too little too late. If Ohio State could put that effort together for two halves the sky could be the limit.

"If we played like we did in the second half every game it would be wonderful for us," Koufos said. "We would come out with more victories."

There isn't any time left for moral victories with the end of the season barreling down on the Buckeyes but does Matta feel better about the outcome of this game compared to some of the other tough losses that Ohio State has taken late in the season?

"I haven't felt real good all year but yeah I do," Matta said. "I've got great guys and that is why I feel so bad. These guys are tremendous young men and at some point we have got to catch a break somewhere or something has got to go right for us."

Stat Leaders
Ohio State - Koufos 21, Turner 13, Hunter 12, Butler 12
Indiana - Bassett 23, Gordon 17, White 16, Crawford 9

Ohio State - Turner 7, Koufos 6, Hunter 6
Indiana - White 8, Ellis 7, Two tied at 6

Ohio State - Butler 8, Turner 4, Lighty 3
Indiana - Gordon 3, Crawford 2, Bassett 2

Ohio State - Koufos 4, Four tied with 1
Indiana - White 2

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