February 29, 2008
Buckeyes looking to climb over the hump
For stretches the Ohio State basketball team has been able to play with some of the nation's elite teams and match-up well in hostile gyms. The problem for Thad Matta is that his team hasn't quite found a way to sustain that level of play for 40 minutes. 2/26 at Indiana - Down 1 point @ 10:28, down 4 several times in final minute
The latest example of that was against the Hoosiers on Tuesday night when the Buckeyes came out in the first half and looked like they were going to get run out of the gym but during the second half the team charged forward and closed a one-time 13 point deficit to one and had several looks at taking the lead before coming up to that imaginary brick wall and not being able to finally climb over it.
To say the Buckeyes have been close would be an understatement. Ohio State has not lost by more than 10 points since a December 1st lost to Butler and during the last five losses in the month of February the Bucks have been close down the stretch in every game.
2/24 vs. Wisconsin - Down 3 points @ :22 and missed three pointer to tie game
2/17 at Michigan - Down 3 points under two minutes to go before wheels came off
2/10 vs. Indiana - Down 4 points @ 1:30 mark
2/2 at Iowa - Down 3 points @ 1:15 mark
"We really can't put your finger on what is going on," sophomore forward David Lighty said. "We are out there and playing hard. It is not like we are getting blown out. It is just a couple of little things like a turnover or some things like setting screens and offensive rebounds and that can make or break a game."
It has been one of the great mysteries of the year for the team why it has been so difficult to play for 40 minutes. Several times this year the Buckeyes have had teams run off big leads only to see Ohio State come back only to fall. Going into the final three games of the season does the team have any idea what is happening or is this team just snake bit?
"We have been trying to figure that out all year," forward Matt Terwilliger said. "It is just kind of thing that everyone personally has to come with the mindset of when you step between those lines it is time to go. We have to go as a team for the next 20 minutes until halftime."
There is not a single coach in college basketball or any level of basketball for that matter that would say that his or her team is playing 40 minutes of perfect basketball but how dangerous could this team be if they were able to up the quality minutes?
"I think you are looking at a really good basketball team," Matta said. "Unfortunately in all teams throughout the country we all have to play 40 minutes and some do it better than others. I am looking forward to that day where we just have a solid effort. I have said it all year that consistency is the biggest challenge of this team and the next play mentality of, 'okay, that didn't go the way it was supposed to but not a big deal so we are onto the next play and let's do it well.' That's maturity as well."
Does it come down to luck or lack thereof?
"To me I really don't believe in luck," guard Jamar Butler said. "It's on you, we are out there playing the game and I don't think it has anything to do with luck. You just have to step up and have it in your mind that you can make the big shots and want to make the big shots."
The Buckeyes have had some solid stretches early in the season and have been able to see what this team might look like if they can sustain a run. Which games stand out the most to the team?
"I think the best example would probably be (the closest to 40 minutes) Florida or (home versus) Iowa which were both big wins for us," Terwilliger said. "When this whole team comes with the mindset that we are going to play hard for 40 minutes I think we are capable of some really good things. We just have to stay together for that long."
So often the tone is set from the opening tip and forward Othello Hunter has seen the team struggle in the opening minutes of the game and knows that more often than not that it can be tough to dig out of an early hole.
"I think we are capable of playing 40 minutes but that the first four minutes is the hump we have to get over," Hunter said. "Usually we come in and are not doing too well in the first four minutes but after that we are on a roll. I guess everyone gets that nervousness out and comes ready to play."
Is the team playing worse basketball now in the midst of a 2-5 stretch than they were earlier in the season?
"I really can't put my finger on anything but it just seems like nothing goes our way," Butler said. "We are playing hard right now and I think we are playing the best ball we have played all year right now and we just have to stick together and start to get a few wins."
The Bucks have shown heart and if moral victories counted on a tournament resume there would be no talk of the dreaded bubble. Is there any time left for any more "moral victories"?
"That is something we really don't need right now," Lighty said. "We just have to find any way to get a victory and if we go out and play our best and play hard for 40 minutes I think we can go out and get a W."
The final stretch tips-off on Saturday afternoon at Minnesota for a 4 p.m. (EST) contest before closing the season at home with games against Purdue and Michigan State in front of the home crowd at Value City Arena.
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