Matta Wanted to See How Buckeyes Would Respond
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before Tuesday night’s game against Michigan State, Ohio State Head Coach Thad Matta turned to first-year assistant Dave Dickerson with a question on his mind.
“I said 'Do you think we're ready to go,'” Matta said.
“And he said, 'I have no idea. I've never been around here after a loss.'”
The Buckeyes had won their first 24 games since Dickerson took over for Alan Major, who left to become the head coach at the University of Charlotte after six years as an assistant at Ohio State.
Matta and his team had not lost a game since their 76-73 loss to Tennessee in the Sweet 16 of last year’s NCAA Tournament. That changed Saturday in Madison, as the Buckeyes blew a 15-point lead in the second half of a 71-67 loss to Wisconsin.
“There was a challenge tonight that I wanted to see,” Matta said after Tuesday’s game.
“After the game I told them after the (Wisconsin) game 'I don't know how we're going to respond, I'm kind of anxious to see.’”
Syracuse did not lose its first game of the year until Jan. 17, when they fell 74-66 at then No. 4-ranked Pitt. The Orange proceeded to lose their next three games—including a 90-68 home loss to Seton Hall—and six of eight overall.
Matta did not expect that kind of drop-off from his team, but even he wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the group as they took the floor three nights after their first loss of the year.
“We wanted to see how we would respond to losing,” he said.
“I thought they did a good job. Michigan State is a very, very good basketball team and as we told our guys, they're going to come in here and they're going to play well.”
Though their record was not what many expected at the start of the year, the Spartans showed no signs of backing down against the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes. They sent a wave of defenders at star freshman Jared Sullinger, getting him in foul trouble early. They also got inside Ohio State’s defense for some easy baskets in the first half.
“Our post defense, especially in the first half, was not very good,” Matta said.
“Give them credit. They picked us apart. Draymond Green was like John Stockton out there with some of those passes. He can really, really pass.”
The Spartans shot over 62-percent from the floor in the first half—and 57-percent for the game—but the Buckeyes did a good job of forcing them into 19 turnovers, which they converted into 23 points at the other end.
“I didn't like 57-percent for the game,” Matta said.
“But I thought we were able to push up a little bit and get into them and force them into situations to turn it over a little bit.”
The Buckeyes had nine steals—including four by Aaron Craft—while only turning the ball over seven times. They shot just 43-percent from the floor and 35-percent from behind the arc, but went 23-of-29 at the free throw line, including 15-of-18 in the second half.
“Our last game we didn't value every possession,” junior William Buford said of the loss at Wisconsin.
“I think in the second half (of this game) we did. I don't think we did in the first half today, but we had some pretty intense practices before this game and we just wanted to come out and play hard.”
The practices were intense because Matta knows what this team is capable of doing when they play their best basketball. He know the only way a team blows a 15-point lead in the second half is if they quit sharing the ball on offense and quit giving maximum effort on defense; that, or the other team goes unconscious from behind the three-point arc.
“I think that for our guys, and I've said this and nobody can understand it unless you've been around them as much as I am, they're such great kids,” Matta said.
“You feel for them when they lose.”
The Buckeyes may no longer be unbeaten this season, but they didn’t let that one loss turn into two losses, or five losses.
“One loss doesn't make or break the season. We were just going to come out and get the win,” Sullinger said.
“William had 23 points and we had four guys in double figures so I mean this is a pretty balanced basketball team.”
They get a chance to prove themselves again Sunday when they travel to Purdue to face the 11th-ranked Boilermakers. The Buckeyes won the first meeting 87-64 in Columbus.
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