Coming off a 35-point loss to Maryland in a season that’s been marred by turbulence, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta is taking a variety of steps to right his inexperienced team’s ship.
He’s always been an avid reader, but, in an effort to find something that might help his players, Matta recently began reading a new book about psychology.
Although he declined to disclose its name, Matta started sharing lessons from the text with his team hoping that something — anything — might click with his youthful Buckeyes.
“The good news is I just started it and it’s, like, 250 pages,” a smiling Matta said.
In its 19 games thus far, OSU narrowly lost to then-No. 10 Virginia and stunned then-fourth-ranked Kentucky at a neutral site, but the Buckeyes (12-7, 4-2) have lost three games by at least 20 points.
Figuring out just what makes this team so different on a night-to-night basis is like breaking the Enigma code — it might take a computer to do it.
Or a book.
“Yesterday (Matta) said he’s on page 36,” freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle said. “Yesterday he read us four quotes out of the book … so who knows how many quotes we’ll get the rest of the week. One of the quotes yesterday was something like, ‘if you look at things differently, maybe the outcome will be differently.’ It was just quotes that compare to us.”
Looking at their next game differently is exactly what might work for the Buckeyes. They’ve had similar games like Thursday’s against No. 22 Purdue (15-3, 4-2) before, but in each of those, the outcome has been less than desired.
The three games with parallels to the forthcoming tilt with the Boilermakers — on the road against a top-flight program in Connecticut, Indiana and Maryland — all ended in 20-plus point defeats.
So, looking at things differently as the Buckeyes head to West Lafayette, Indiana, might be what it takes for the team to crack the code and become the consistent basketball team it strives to be.
OSU has struggled to bring the necessary energy to compete with its more talent-laden opponents when facing them on the visitor’s home floor. That, however, should not be the case Thursday, Lyle said.
“I’m expecting us to come in there and play hard all 40 minutes,” Lyle said. “Start playing hard from the jump, not waiting for the second media timeout or anything like that. Just trying to play hard the entire game, I feel like we haven’t done that in a while.
“We need to get back to doing that.”
“With the lights on”
Bouncing back from such an embarrassing loss could be difficult, but Matta said his team has been putting forth a solid showing in the gym in the days following.
“We’ve had a couple of pretty good practices,” Matta said. “But we’ve practiced relatively well throughout the (season). When you step into Mackey Arena (Thursday) night, it’s on.”
To be a better team when the first whistle blows, Matta said, the effort Lyle mentioned needs to be there, but it cannot be just be up to one player. Every player that sees the court needs to consistently be playing hard, the coach said, even through any mistakes the team makes.
When those mistakes happen, which they are bound to, as they are just a part of the game, sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate said, Matta always emphasizes the importance of playing through them, rather than letting them weigh players down.
“Coach Matta isn’t one of those coaches who’s gonna yell at you for a bad shot,” Tate said. “He doesn’t really care about the mistakes that you make. He just wants to see you play through them. As long as you play hard, then there’s no problem. That’s just what we’ve got to do a better job of.”
While OSU is looking at its matchup against Purdue differently, that won’t change the fact the Buckeyes will have their hands full when the game starts.
The Boilermakers come into Thursday’s game on the heels of a 107-57 throttling of Rutgers on Monday. Although the Scarlet Knights aren’t exactly a heavyweight opponent, Purdue used the same balanced attack in that game that has helped it throughout the season.
That balanced scoring comes from three dominant post players, in senior center A.J. Hammons, sophomore center Isaac Haas and freshman forward Caleb Swanigan. The entire trio averages double-figure scoring, with the 7-foot Hammons leading the way with 13.4 points a game.
Haas, who checks in at 7-foot-2, puts up 10.9 points a contest, while Swanigan chips in 10.4 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Matta said he is well aware of the three-headed monster in the paint.
“They are huge,” the coach said. “We’ve got to do a great job, the best job we can, with our post defense. It’s no secret. If you look at their shot totals, they’re going to get the ball inside to those guys.”
Although denying all the entry passes to the trio would be the best-case scenario for Matta’s team, that is unrealistic. Once it gets down there, though, it is on OSU’s post players, like freshman Daniel Giddens and redshirt sophomore Trevor Thompson, to step up, Matta said.
“They’re going to score,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that but we’ve got to do the best job we can challenging them, taking away their favorite moves. And (we need to) rebound the basketball.”
After the Buckeyes take on the Boilermakers, they’re set to return to Columbus and take on Penn State at 7 p.m. on Monday.