Buckeyes trying to shake off recent embarrassment
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The word kept coming up again and again as Ohio State players spoke about their most recent outing: Embarrassing.
That's how Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson repeatedly described the 18th-ranked Buckeyes' effort, mindset, defense and overall performance in Sunday's 71-49 trashing at Wisconsin on Sunday.
"I think I can speak for the team, we are embarrassed,'' Smith said. "We not only embarrassed ourselves, we embarrassed our coaching staff, our university, our school president and our fans. We embarrassed everybody. We didn't answer the call. We didn't do anything we're known to do. We kind of abandoned everything - our principles, offensively and defensively.''
Thompson added that the way the Buckeyes played had dishonored the great players and teams that have gone before them, including teams that had won the last three Big Ten titles.
The players have held several team meetings since flying home on Sunday night. Thompson wouldn't disclose what the Buckeyes talked about, but hinted that it may have been about getting their heads straight after losing three of their last four games.
"It goes back to conditioning our minds,'' Thompson said. "Every guy in the locker room knows that coach (Thad) Matta is a defensive coach, knows what our team expectations are on the defensive end. So whenever we go out and don't do it, it's a result of our minds not being where they need to be to win a basketball game.''
Matta has clearly challenged the Buckeyes (18-7, 8-5 Big Ten) to reach deeper. Much deeper.
"We didn't play,'' he said, while also praising Wisconsin's performance. "That one's over. But what do we do next? That's my biggest concern.''
What's next is Minnesota (18-8, 6-7), a team facing almost identical questions after also losing three of its last four and also getting blown out on Sunday (72-51 at Iowa). Since this is the only meeting between the two this season, it goes a long way toward seeding in the Big Ten tournament and possibly even in the NCAA tournament.
But before even discussing the Golden Gophers, the Buckeyes have been doing some self-analysis.
"Now we have to move on,'' Smith said. "We have games coming up. We have to go back home and start doing stuff that we did initially to help us win games.''
Ranked No. 4 in the preseason, the Buckeyes have battled an array of problems all season, it seems. They lay waste to inferior teams, going 17-0 against unranked teams while mustering just one win in eight contests against teams in the Associated Press Top 25.
Clearly, their nagging shortcomings - a lack of a No. 2 scorer behind Big Ten leader Deshaun Thomas; poor shooting in big games; and erratic defensive intensity - are magnified when the competition is better.
In the loss to Wisconsin at Kohl Center, they completely unraveled.
From a tie at 6-6, the Badgers coasted to a 34-14 lead as the Buckeyes failed to make any stops whatsoever while continually misfiring at the offensive end.
"We can't play like this in February,'' point guard Aaron Craft said while questioning the team's effort. "This is beginning-of-the-year mistakes and mental errors.''
Matta tried just about everything to shake his team out of its doldrums, to no avail.
He knows only one way to change things.
"You've got to go to work. Guys have to look at themselves and say, I have got a little more ownership at stake in this - all of us,'' he said.
Heading into the Wisconsin game, Matta thought his team was well prepared and had an understanding of what it needed to do. But then it came out flat and listless, trailing by as many as 26 points.
After the Buckeyes had a good workout on Monday, they showed up on Tuesday smiling. An angry Matta did not handle it well.
"Coach Matta immediately said, `I don't know what you guys are feeling good for. We just lost. It was embarrassing. We're not going to let this go. We're going to beat this drum until you guys realize this can never happen again. Ever. In history,''' Smith said.
Thompson said the older players on the team - several juniors and the lone senior (post Evan Ravenel) - have made it clear that there can be no repeat of the debacle last Sunday.
"(They) have stepped up and really communicated to the team about the importance of not forgetting the Wisconsin game but at the same time moving on to the Minnesota game,'' Thompson said. "It's not feeling sorry for ourselves, but knowing what we did was unacceptable.''
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