Going Undefeated: Would Have Been Nice, but Not Necessary
By Brandon Castel
Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Kent Benson and the rest of the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers can rest easy after Saturday.
They may not hold on to their title as the last undefeated champion in college basketball the way the 1971 Miami Dolphins do, but their names seem to resurface every year around the time the final unbeaten falls.
That happened Saturday, as the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes saw their 24-game winning streak come to a halt at Wisconsin with a 71-67 loss to the Badgers. Ohio State had built a 15-point lead in the second half and it looked like head coach That Matta was going to escape Madison with his victory at the Kohl Center until Jordan Taylor led the improbable comeback.
“It's a bad feeling,” senior David Lighty said after the team’s first loss of the season.
“Especially when we had a lead like that and thinking that we had the game in our hands.”
Coughing up a 15-point lead is a tough way to lose any game, but especially tough when it’s the first loss of the season. The Buckeyes aren’t going to spend much time dwelling on their defeat.
“You can't do anything about it. We were ranked in the top-5 in the country and we lost here and we went to the national championship my freshman year,” said Lighty, who was a freshman on the 2006-07 team.
“You never know what's going to happen.”
Being undefeated after 24 games was a great accomplishment for this Ohio State team, but it was never the goal they set out to achieve at the start of the season.
“That wasn't our goal,” junior William Buford said.
“Our goal was is to win the Big Ten, but nobody likes to lose.”
This group especially, and they haven’t done much of it dating back to last year. Since rallying for a 70-66 win at Purdue on Jan. 12, 2010, the Buckeyes have won 42 of their last 46 games. That includes their loss Saturday in Madison along with their 76-73 loss to Tennessee in last year’s Sweet 16.
“Coach Matta recruits people who are winners. As a team, we're winners here. We don't like to lose. Losing hits you in the stomach,” star freshman Jared Sullinger said.
“It gets to the point to where you don't like it and you don't want it any more. We've tasted defeat and it hit us in the stomach. Now we've got to play basketball.”
With Sullinger leading the way, the Buckeyes were only eight games away from reaching perfection during the regular season. They had won their first eight road games to start the year, and had only two more on the road after Saturday’s game at Wisconsin.
For a minute, it looked like perfection might be a possibility if the Buckeyes could have gotten past the Badgers. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan sees it as a mirage in today’s game.
“Conference play, plus neutral tournaments, night games followed by the next day at noon, injuries. Teams get hot, teams get cold. It’s not like you play on Saturday and get a week to prepare for the next team,” Ryan said after Saturday’s game.
“I tell football coaches, they’ve got it made, they get a whole week to prepare. We’re traveling all week. College basketball, to go undefeated, just think about all those factors. It is hard, for all those reasons.”
Hard doesn’t mean impossible, but this team has always been focused on winning the next game not on winning them all.
“It's a thing that you would love to do of course, but we never really thought about that at all,” Lighty said of a perfect season.
“We're 24-1, right? Who has a record like that in the country?”
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