Matta Considering a Lineup Change After Illinois Loss
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thad Matta is throwing out the tape of Saturday’s 19-point loss at Illinois. Not literally, because he knows this Ohio State team is going to need to learn a lot of valuable lessons from that crushing defeat at the hands of former OSU assistant John Groce.
He’s not going to analyze his team, however, for its performance in that game the way he will their earlier losses against Duke and Kansas.
“I have to throw Saturday out,” Matta said Monday as the Buckeyes prepare to hit the road again on Tuesday.
“We did things that are so uncharacteristic. I told them I’m not sure who was in your jerseys today. I’m not taking anything away from Illinois, because they were great, but there were things that happened where you’re saying, ‘that can’t happen.’”
Matta had to watch as his team gave up more easy baskets to the Fighting Illini than in any game most Ohio State fans could remember in recent memory, at least in recent Thad Matta memory.
The Hoopeston, Ill. native has transformed Buckeye basketball into a burgeoning national powerhouse during his nine seasons in Columbus. This team in particular has already put the 45-year old coach through more ups and downs than any since the 2007-08 Buckeyes missed the NCAA Tournament.
“There comes a personal responsibility,” Matta said of the disappointing play in Champaign.
“I asked them if we need to change something to make sure… it’s unfortunate because you have games kind of like that. It was concerning that we couldn’t snap ourselves out of it in time. That’s the beauty of playing three games in six days. We’ll find out tomorrow night if we’re ready to play.”
The Buckeyes travel to West Lafayette, where they will face off against a Purdue team that is just 7-7 on the season and 1-1 in conference play. The Boilermakers have already lost to teams like Bucknell, Villanova, Oregon State, Xavier and Eastern Michigan, but they upset the 11th-ranked Fighting Illini at their place last week.
They also played Michigan State pretty close for 30 minutes before Tom Izzo’s squad went on a run to close out the game up in East Lansing.
“Even going back to here last year, and what they did for 30 minutes Saturday in East Lansing,” Matta said.
“It was back and forth the whole way. Our guys definitely understand that, and coming off of Saturday’s game, their awareness has to be heightened.”
Switching Things Up
Matta isn’t sure what, if anything, needs to be done in order to get the attention of his players. He only has one senior on the roster, and he already replaced him in the starting lineup with sophomore center Amir Williams. Matta doesn’t have many options, but he admitted Monday he is at least thinking about the possibility of changing things up for a second time.
“The motivation would be I want to attempt to get off to a good start in the game,” he said.
“Finding those five guys who have a good flow to them is what I’m looking for.”
The Buckeyes got off to a horrendous start at Assembly Hall on Saturday. They turned the ball over on each of the first two possessions which led to five quick points for the Illini. Tyler Griffey missed a wide-open three in the corner that would have made it 8-0 and the OSU players know they weren’t ready to compete at the level Illinois was coming off their loss to Purdue.
“I think we have to take a better approach to it,” said sophomore point guard Shannon Scott.
“Before the game, our minds weren’t really there. We were laughing and not really focused. We still want to be relaxed. We don’t want to be too tight or too nervous, but we have to have a better approach.”
If Matta is going to switch up the starting lineup it would almost certainly have to be one of the wing players – Lenzelle Smith or Sam Thompson – who ends up on the bench. He could also decide to go small, with Deshaun Thomas at the five, the way Ohio State did briefly in the second half against Illinois.
“We’ve talked about that from day one, using that lineup,” Matta said.
“I don’t know how much we will, but we had actually rehearsed it.”
Matta said the idea would be to potentially get more scoring on the floor with sophomore LaQuinton Ross at the power forward spot, but an even bigger thing might be their ability to spread the floor and create more favorable situations for Thomas, who has struggled to find any open space on the court this season.
“I think coach (Chris) Jent was just seeing the matchups,” Thomas said.
“They were going small too, so we wanted to match their intensity and get more scoring with Q out there. I was comfortable with that because I was guarding a five man and he was guarding me. It was difficult for him to guard me in the second half.”
The Boilermakers feature a 7-foot center in freshman A.J. Hammons out of Carmel, Ind. That might make it tough for Matta to keep Amir Williams, Ohio State’s 6-11 center, off the floor for very long on Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Hammons averages 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season.
The players aren’t expecting any major changes on Tuesday night, but Matta said he would have to see how things played out in practice before he made any final decisions.
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