That whooshing sound you heard Sunday evening? That was the Big Ten championship hopes of the Ohio State men’s basketball team vanishing into thin air.
I’m not really sure what happened. One minute Ohio State was up by eight points and looking as if it was about to pull away, and the next minute I was leaving the stadium after watching the final seconds tick away in a 63-60 Buckeye loss. It’s all kind of a blur.
What I am sure of is that this is the most pessimistic I have been regarding a Buckeye basketball team since Evan Turner was a sophomore and playing Sienna in the first round. If you would have told me that I would be happy with a 3 seed in the tournament (conference or national) after the dismantling of Duke, I would have assumed something like a major injury dismantled the season.
There are a number of different areas where one can turn when trying to find the reason behind Ohio State’s most recent poor effort. From the start, the Bucks completely out shot Wisconsin in the first half, but, thanks to constant turnovers and offensive fouls, the game was tied at 29 going into the break.
Thad Matta then chewed out the officials on his way back to locker room, and it seemed to work, because the Badgers picked up six team fouls before the first TV timeout of the second half. However, the Scarlet and Gray could not take advantage from the line, shooting only 10-19 in the game (including some crucial misses down the stretch). Even if the refs did have the guts to give Bo Ryan a technical foul for being the biggest whiner in the entire conference, the Buckeyes probably would have missed the free throws anyway.
As the minutes wore away in the second half and in William Buford’s career at the Schott, the lone senior noticeably forced two or three ill advised attempts down the stretch. But it was the inexplicable play call out of the timeout in the game’s waning seconds (with the Bucks trailing by two) that really stood out.
Jared Sullinger, the team’s supposed best player and go to guy, had just scored easily down low on the previous possession, but Matta called for a Deshaun Thomas three pointer at the top of the key. The Badgers were ready for it and Thomas, who was likely too excited that the play call was for him in the first place, forced a terrible shot when he still had his dribble. It wasn’t really the fact that Thomas got the ball hand that was frustrating (after all, he did have the game’s hot hand and led the team with 23 points). It was more about the complete disregard for conventional knowledge that when trailing by two at home (and as the better team), you should play for overtime. There is little doubt in my mind, even as disillusioned as this team has made me at times, that Ohio State could beat Wisconsin at home in an overtime period.
Another frustrating aspect of Sunday’s game was the offensive disappearance of Sully, who dominated Wisconsin in the previous meeting. Sure, he certainly did not get enough touches, but eight points and a 0-3 effort on the line is not going to cut it in big games.
I would be remiss not to point out Evan Ravenel’s effort on Sunday, since I have been somewhat critical of his play in the past. He played great defense in limited minutes, especially on Ryan Evans, someone Thomas was having trouble containing. Ravenel pulled in five rebounds in only ten minutes, while Sullinger grabbed six in 33 minutes. Given that Wisconsin was luring Sully out to guard the three (and taking away his rebound opportunities), I would have liked to see Ravenel play more minutes than he did.
The Buckeyes travel to Northwestern on Wednesday to play a hungry Wildcat team who is on the border of making its first ever NCAA Tournament. At this point, Ohio State can realistically finish anywhere between second and fourth in the Big Ten (although a co-championship is still mathematically possible, I just don’t see it happening). Let’s see which team shows up.