In Ohio State coach Thad Matta’s head coaching career, he has stood on the sideline for 531 games.
He has won 403 of those, while dropping 128. But in none of those 531 contests has his team had more losses than wins in the record column.
That will change on Tuesday, as the Buckeyes (2-3) are set to welcome No. 10 Virginia (5-1) to the Schottenstein Center for a 7:30 p.m. matchup as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
OSU’s season started off without any noteworthy results, grabbing 20-plus-point victories over a pair of unspectacular opponents. The wheels came off from there, however, as consecutive home losses to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech dropped OSU to .500, before an overtime loss to Memphis in Miami gave Matta a losing record for the first time in his career.
Sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate said having a losing record comes as a shock when a player comes to a school like OSU, but the team has to keep its composure and keep getting back on track.
“None of us expected to be 2-3, but we’ve just got to stay the course,” Tate said. “We have to learn how to grow, how to improve every week in practice.”
Tate and fellow sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop each offered the same two culprits for the Buckeyes’ struggles: turnovers and poor free-throw shooting.
“We’re not losing games by a lot. They’re close games. It’s just the turnovers, we have to cut back on those, and make our free throws,” Bates-Diop said. “We could be getting different questions right now if we’re doing that.”
The Buckeyes are turning the ball over 16.2 times per game, ranking 323rd in the nation out of 346 qualifying Division I schools. Virginia, on the other hand, ranks second with just 7.5 turnovers per game.
Matta said the praise for the Cavaliers’ efficiency lies with coach Tony Bennett, who is now in his seventh season in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I think Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job in terms of coming in and establishing that program … I don’t think Virginia gets the respect of other schools, but they’re as good as any of them, that’s for sure,” Matta said.
For the Buckeyes, Tate said it is never easy to snap a losing streak, and the team is unlikely to get any help against a team like the Cavaliers. Still, he said the team is trying its hardest to keep its focus one game at a time.
“Any loss will have an impact on your confidence, but coach is doing a great job telling us to stay the course,” Tate said. “Teams go through losses all the time, it’s just how you bounce back the next game.”
A glance at the Cavaliers
Virginia comes into Tuesday night’s matchup 5-1, with the lone loss coming in a second-game hiccup at George Washington.
While the quality of its other five opponents hasn’t been the strongest, Matta said he has been more than impressed with what he’s watched.
“They’re as good of a basketball team as I’ve seen this year … They’re such a great blend of the positions, inside, outside,” Matta said. “It’s definitely a veteran basketball team that’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Virginia — which earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament a season ago but was ultimately upset by Michigan State in the Round of 32 — uses a balanced offensive attack rather than relying on a go-to scorer.
Redshirt senior guard Malcolm Brogdon leads the team with 16.7 points per game. The 2014-15 AP All-American Second-Team recipient has also chipped in 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
The Cavaliers have shot exceptionally well this season, shooting the ball at a 51.7 percent clip from the field while holding opponents to 39.1 percent. Those marks rank 13th and 74th in the nation, respectively.
“They’re a great defensive team,” Tate said. “They run a lot of offense through their post, so post defense will be really key. We’ve just got to execute and take care of the ball.”
After the Cavaliers, the Buckeyes are set to resume action on Saturday against another school from the 10th state — Virginia Military Institute. Tip is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.