If you combined one half of each of Ohio State’s two major athletic programs, you would have a team for the ages. The Buckeye football team’s offense and men’s basketball team’s defense are two of the most successful units in their respective sports.
The OSU football team finished the season with two consecutive losses — its first two in the Urban Meyer era — with a large amount of the blame falling on the Buckeyes’ defensive struggles.
Now the basketball team finds itself in a similar situation. Except the exact opposite.
While the football team’s defense was the weak point — allowing 34 points or more in each of their final three games — it is the basketball team’s offense that has been letting it down this year.
“I think as a team, we’ve probably shot more shots than I have since I’ve been here. Whether it’s over Christmas break and then before and after practices. As a collective team, we’ve shot more shots,” senior guard Aaron Craft said. “For some reason, we’re not playing with very much confidence and that shows when we get into games and we miss a shot or two and you don’t want to shoot the next one. You kind of look at one guy and say, ‘All right, you know he’s going to shoot the next three times down the floor.’ And that’s definitely not when we’re at our best.”
As the football team was making its return from the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl, the then-No. 3 OSU basketball team was preparing for its biggest game of the season against then-No. 5 Michigan State.
A failed comeback attempt against the Spartans and three more losses later, and OSU sits on the precipice of its season spiraling out of control.
Craft said holding each other accountable for poor play is something his team needs to work to improve.
“It’s really easy with that type of team to just kind of expect everyone to get themselves going, expect everyone to kind of hold themselves accountable and maybe we’re not at that point yet. It takes a special team, special group of guys to be able to do that,” Craft said. “Probably the best teams that I’ve played on have always had guys that have held people accountable and looked at them and did what they needed to do to get other people going … Not calling guys out but letting them know that we need you to do this job, we need you to do this role and that’s going to help us win games, that’s going to help make us a better team. It’s different for everyone, it’s different for every team and we’re going to continue to figure it out.”
A big issue for OSU this season has been giving the ball away. The Buckeyes are turning the ball over an average of 11.5 times per game this season, something coach Thad Matta said needs to be fixed.
“Obviously, we’ve got to take better care of the basketball. We had 13 turnovers (against Minnesota), I think they had 12 steals,” Matta said. “I don’t (know) if I’ve ever had a game like that. But just taking care of it, being more sure, being more confident in what we’re doing I think is the answer for us.”
Junior center Amir Williams echoed his coach’s thoughts, saying confidence is something the team needs to improve if the Buckeyes want to get back to where they were at the beginning of the season.
“Maybe your first two shots, your first three shots don’t go in so you try to force the fourth one in or you just don’t shoot a wide open shot,” Williams said. “You just, like you said, have the confidence to be able to knock that shot down. You can’t lose faith in yourself because we need guys on our team to make shots … It’s a collective thing we have to do as a team. Stay confident and knock down shots that we’ve been shooting all season long.”
OSU started off the season well, outscoring opponents by an average of 20.8 points per game in non-conference play en route to a perfect start.
But in the team’s first six Big Ten games, OSU’s margin of victory slipped to about 1.7, and the Buckeyes have gone 2-4.
Craft said the Buckeyes need to get back to how they were playing early in the season if they want to turn things around.
“Early in the year when we were playing the best basketball we could, we had multiple guys kind of doing their job and putting the ball in the bucket. It really relieved a lot of stress and a lot of pressure off the other guys,” Craft said. “You got a guy like (junior forward) LaQuinton (Ross) who, I think, feels like he’s gotta make plays because no one else is really doing much. And that puts him bad situations, gets him to turn the ball over and the same thing happens with (senior guard) Lenzelle (Smith Jr.) or myself or anyone else. We have to have guys confident in themselves, believing in themselves and if they miss a shot we’re not going to yell at them, we’re not going to get on them. It’s on to the next play, on to the next shot, on to the next defensive possession.”
The Buckeyes —– coming off their fourth straight loss — will hope to turn things around offensively Thursday when Illinois (13-6, 2-4) is scheduled to come to town. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.