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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 02/13/2011 6:08 PM
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Men's Basketball
This Just In: Celestial Stability Remains Despite OSU Loss
By John Porentas

In case you hadn't heard, the Buckeyes lost a basketball game last night, their first one of the season.

About 12 hours have passed since that game ended, and I just stuck my head out the window and checked. You will be very happy to know that the sky is still firmly in place, and is not falling, at least not here where I am.

Trouble is, I can only be in one place at a time, surely a failing on my part, so go ahead and check and see if the sky is falling there where you are, and if it is, shoot me an email, and we'll figure out what to do next. If not, just come back and keep reading, and we'll try to figure out if the sky is falling anywhere today, not just where you and I are.

If you're reading this, the sky is still firmly in place where you are too. I haven't gotten any email to the contrary from anyone else, so that probably means the sky is still probably pretty solid everywhere, despite the Buckeye loss, but what we don't know is whether or not the loss loosened up the sky to the point to where it could actually fall yet between now and the end of the regular-season.

For starters, one of those "still solid" things is that OSU's season is still intact, despite the loss at Wisconsin.

"We never talked about being 24-0. We just tried to talk about playing better basketball," said OSU Head Coach Thad Matta in the aftermath of the loss that snapped his teams winning streak.

"We're still in the hunt for a conference championship."

Matta is definitely right about that. With six games remaining on the regular-season schedule, OSU enjoys a two-game lead over both Wisconsin and Purdue, the only two teams with any realistic chance at all of catching them. Additionally, those two teams have to play each other once, meaning that for one of them the steep uphill climb that both are now facing is much, much steeper for the loser of that game. For all intents and purposes, just one team, the winner of the Wisconsin vs. Purdue game, has any real shot of catching the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, will play four of their final six at home. They host Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin yet this season, and must travel to Purdue and Penn State.

You probably have to like OSU in all four of those home games. All they need then is a split in the two remaining road games to secure the championship, and in the process, secure the sky firmly in place again.

The crucial thing for OSU now is how they will react to the loss. Will they hang their heads and come unglued, or will they rally together and close out their championship chase? Following the game, the Buckeyes were at least saying all the right things.

"Coach Matta recruits people who are winners. As a team, we're winners here. We don't like to lose," said freshman center Jared Sullinger.

"Losing hits you in the stomach. 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."

Junior forward William Buford insisted that the loss will not shake OSU's confidence going forward, and as we all know, confidence is a key ingredient in winning.

"Absolutely not," Buford said.

"It just makes us want to get better and better and better. When we go to practice tomorrow, we're going to work on getting better."

We'll know Tuesday when the Buckeyes take the court against Michigan State whether OSU will react positively or negatively, but you probably want to know before that. That's why your reading this. We took a look at our Tea Leaves, but it didn't help, so we did the next-best thing, which was to try to figure out why the Buckeyes lost at Wisconsin in the first place, and how much getting better they really have to do.

Amazingly, the conclusion we came away with is that there really isn't too much they can do. The only thing they really can control is how well or poorly they play, and to be honest, at Wisconsin, they didn't exactly stink up the joint.

"You come on the road, you shoot 54 percent, you shoot 88 percent from the free throw line, you out rebound your opponent, and you only have seven turnovers, you feel your chances are pretty good," said Matta after the loss.

What really happened is that for four minutes, Wisconsin played better than any team has any right to expect to play. They simply could not miss a shot. At the same time, the Buckeyes couldn't get one to go down. It was the perfect storm.

"I thought we played 36 minutes of really, really good basketball," said Matta.

"They played in that stretch near perfect to get us, and they did. They deserve the credit for that."

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said the combination of his team's play during that stretch and OSU's cold shooting at the very same time was the key thing.

"We were making shots, and they had a couple shots go half way down the basket and come out. A couple of those "in and outs" then we were able to score and the momentum goes even more our way even greater. We had to do some things that, if you could do them all the time, you would never have to worry about being on the right-hand side of the score."

"First half against Iowa we had those same looks, and we get a three to go down. Tonight we did."

Once the lead was gone, The Badgers were able to hold on with the help of the home crowd.

"I don't know if you want to be down 15 on the road to this team, to Ohio State. Our fans, I think, just willed us on," Ryan said.

Those kinds of circumstances aren't likely to happen again, so the real issue for the Buckeyes is whether they will regress after the loss. The task of making sure that doesn't happen falls to some degree on the coaching staff, but ultimately it must come from the leadership on the team. That means that they will be looking toward senior David Lighty. Lighty is guy who has been there, done that, and will draw on his experience and try to pass his wisdom down to the rest of the team.

"We were ranked in the top-five in the country and we lost here and we went to the national championship my freshman year," said Lighty.

"He's been through the wars, the ups and downs of college basketball," said Matta of Lighty's leadership role after the loss.

"We haven't had a lot of downs for this team on February 12th. We've got to pick ourselves up. We're still in the hunt for a conference championship."

The sky is not, I repeat, not yet falling, but it might need a little shimming up between now and Tuesday when Tom Izzo and the Spartans come calling to Columbus. Thad Matta and David Lighty are on the job with their hammers and shims. We'll see how well they can solidify things between now and them.

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