Before the 2013-14 season began, head coach Thad Matta had a record of 17-0 in his nine-plus years at the helm of the Ohio State men’s basketball team against Penn State.
Now he’s 17-2. Yep, the Nittany Lions, the Big Ten’s perennial cellar dweller, sweep the season series against the Buckeyes with a 65-63 win at the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday night. It’s the first time Penn State had done that since the 1997-98 campaign.
Ohio State began the season winning 15-straight games as the Buckeyes breezed through a relatively weak non-conference portion of the schedule. After garnering two wins in league play, Ohio State’s first loss was in overtime to Michigan State in East Lansing after trailing by as many as 17 in the second half.
After that game on Jan. 7, the Buckeyes lost four out of the next five that included another overtime loss, this time to Penn State at home.
Since then, Ohio State has won six out of the past eight contests with wins over two ranked teams on the road, Wisconsin and Iowa. The two losses were to then-No. 15 Michigan at home, and yet again to Penn State.
Just when you think Matta has righted the ship, it steers off course into uncharted waters.
The thing is, those two losses to Penn State are bad. Very bad. I don’t want to hear about how great the Big Ten Conference is, or how competitive it is, or how good it is from top to bottom. The Buckeyes have seven losses this season, and five of those came against teams currently in the RPI top 50. Penn State, meanwhile, is just outside the top 100.
As for the players, the biggest disappointment by far this season has been 6-foot-11 junior center Amir Williams, who was a four-star recruit coming out of Detroit Country Day High School in Beverly Hills, Mich., and was a McDonald’s All-American.
And I’m not sure how Williams became a McDonald’s All-American unless he worked there in high school.
Last year, Williams played in all 37 games, shot 55.6 percent from the field and averaged 3.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while playing 16.5 minutes per outing.
This season through 29 games, Williams is shooting 60.1 percent from the floor and is averaging 8.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 23.5 minutes per game.
In Ohio State’s loss to Penn State on Thursday night, Williams played just 12 minutes due to foul trouble and scored two points with zero rebounds, one assist, one block and one turnover. Williams’ back-up, 6-foot-8 junior Trey McDonald, fared a little better. McDonald scored nine points in 25 minutes, but failed to get one single rebound.
Another disappointment has been senior guard Aaron Craft. While he’s a tremendous kid, a great role model, and one of the top defenders in college basketball, Craft hasn’t developed an offensive game in his four years. As a freshman, he averaged 6.9 points per game. His sophomore season, he averaged 8.8. As a junior, he averaged 10.0 points per outing. This season, though, he’s regressed to 9.5 points per game.
In college basketball, if you don’t have any assemblance of an inside game which Ohio State does not, then you better be able to knock down shots from the outside. And that’s something the Buckeyes cannot do either.
As a team, Ohio State is hitting just 34.0 percent from beyond the arc and no player is connecting better than 40.0 percent. The Buckeyes’ best three-point shooter statistically is 6-foot-8 junior LaQuinton Ross at 39.2 percent.
With the clock winding down and Ohio State trailing by two against Penn State with just precious seconds left on the clock, 6-foot-4 senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. hoisted a three-pointer right before the buzzer that didn’t have a chance.
But why did the Buckeyes take a three only down two? And this was the play coming out of a timeout? It makes absolutely no sense. Sure, Williams, Craft and junior guard Shannon Scott all had four fouls each. But does that mean you have to go for the win because your afraid that one, two, or all of those players foul out in overtime? I can only guess that was the idea in the huddle.
Look, Matta has been the coach at Ohio State for 10 seasons now and has done great things for the program. I wouldn’t want anyone as coach for the Buckeyes. But at the same time, Matta seems to set in his ways. Not only do you need to make adjustments as the game goes along, but you have to do so as the season goes along, too. The problem is, I seen the same things every game and nothing seems to be getting better.
Ohio State has just two regular season games in hopes of getting things on track, or it’s one-and-done in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournament.
Up next, the Buckeyes travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana, Sunday afternoon. Tip-off at Assembly Hall is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on your local CBS affiliate.