The Ohio State men’s basketball team tasted a blowout loss on the final day of the regular season, but the Buckeyes don’t have much time to reflect.
After OSU lost to No. 6 Wisconsin, 72-48, on senior day on Sunday, the Buckeyes are set to play Thursday night in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. Coach Thad Matta said he wants his team to learn from that loss, but added that the players can’t dwell on it.
“For me, it’s more of just having the understanding that we can’t change what happened Sunday,” Matta said Wednesday. “‘OK, that’s over with. We had one of those games, don’t have another one of those for the remainder of the season.’ I hope that we wash it down the drain afterwards and guys are ready to go.”
Matta added that there’s always added pressure when tournament play rolls around, and his players have to be up to the task.
“You chose the wrong school if you don’t want the pressure tomorrow night at 8 o’clock, if you don’t want the pressure the next day, the next day, going into the NCAA Tournament,” the 11-year OSU coach said. “If you don’t want that, we made a mistake recruiting you.”
The Buckeyes (22-9, 11-7) didn’t find out exactly who they’d play until late Wednesday night, meaning they didn’t have a particular opponent to prepare for. But Matta said their opponent might have a slight advantage, already having won one tournament game.
“You need a little bit of luck,” Matta said of the keys to finding success in a tournament. “I think a lot of it is getting through that first game. Whoever we play will have played a game in there before us.”
OSU learned its tournament draw when Minnesota (18-14, 6-12) topped Rutgers (10-22, 2-16), 80-68, in the first round at the United Center, sending them through for a matchup with the Buckeyes.
OSU already played Minnesota once this season, and it took every last effort to top the Golden Gophers, 74-72, in overtime on the road on Jan. 6.
Freshman guard D’Angelo Russell said it will be important to focus on each opponent one at a time, rather than dwelling on the past or the future, especially in tournament play.
“We’re in the postseason, so if you’re not mentally prepared for this, it’s not for you,” Russell said Wednesday. “I think we’ve got a great connection of guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to win and advance round by round, just take one game at a time and be successful with it.”
But even if OSU is now focused on the task at hand, Russell said the Buckeyes can still look at the Wisconsin game and gain something from the senior day letdown.
“I feel like it can trigger a great point of what we need to do, and what needs to be done and all the work that we need to do to be successful in the tournament,” he said. “So we can just take it as a learning point.”
Last season, the Buckeyes lost two of their final three regular season games, but pulled out a close win over Michigan State to close the regular season. Then OSU won two games in the Big Ten Tournament before falling to Michigan, 72-69, in the semifinals.
That roster included four of OSU’s five current seniors, who were also on the team when the Buckeyes last won the conference tournament in 2013. That happens to also be the last time the tournament was held in Chicago.
Matta said players have to have camaraderie on the court to succeed in tournament play, and he has at least four Buckeyes who have already experienced that.
“I think one of the big keys is the togetherness that you have, because it is game after game after game,” he said. “And you’ve gotta have a purpose, you’ve gotta have a cause when you go into these things.”
This time around, the Buckeyes aren’t coming off a five-game winning streak like they were in 2013. With the loss to Wisconsin still fresh in his mind, Matta said he’ll just have to wait and see what OSU can do.
“I’ll be interested to see on how they come out and play,” he said. “I want them to feel the heat.”