Buckeyes, Illini, Both Desperate for a Win
By Rob Ogden
A look of disgust came over Sam Thompson's face when he was reminded how many days it had been since the Buckeyes' last win.
Nineteen, to be exact.
It's been equally as long for Illinois, who will face Ohio State Thursday night in Columbus. Also losers of four straight, the Illini beat Penn State Jan. 4, the same day Ohio State defeated Nebraska for its last win.
The Buckeyes are so desperate for a win that they're treating Thursday night's game like the postseason.
"At this point we're down to a one-game season," Thompson said. "Our only goal is to be better than Illinois on Thursday."
But the Illini figure to be equally as desperate. A road win over the Buckeyes would look good on a resume come tournament time. Thompson knows that.
"We both need wins," he said. "Illinois is in the same position as us. We assume they feel the same way we feel. They have to beat us on Thursday just like we have to beat them on Thursday. We have to bring our best game because we know they will, because like us, they're playing for their season."
Ohio State's season took a turn for the worse two weeks ago in an overtime loss at Michigan State and hit rock bottom Monday at Nebraska.
The team's physical ability was questioned at times even prior to the losing skid, but its mental approach appears unsteady now, as well.
The players called a players-only meeting following the loss in Lincoln to discuss how to get back to playing their best basketball. They text back-and-forth in a group message, trying to pinpoint what has ailed them.
The cohesiveness as a team is still there, Thompson said. But something is lacking.
"I don't know if I would call it a lack of confidence, but there's definitely a different feel around then what we had previously," he said. "I think there's a certain frustration just with losing. We're not frustrated with each other or the coaching staff, just with ourselves for not coming out and doing what we're capable of doing. Confidence is fine, chemistry is fine, morale is fine."
Coach Thad Matta said he almost wishes team chemistry was the issue, that way he could at least work on fixing it.
But that's not the problem, he said.
"The camaraderie is good," Matta said. "It's a great group of guys. I've looked for those things, but there's nothing."
The Buckeyes' problems are more difficult to fix. They're on the court, and in the standings, where they are now four games out of first place.
Matta said it's always desperation mode in the Big Ten.
Thursday night might be the perfect showcase for that.
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