Temporary Relief

By Kyle Rowland on February 3, 2014 at 4:54p

One play Saturday served as a microcosm of Ohio State’s basketball season. Looking to put the finishing touches on a statement win that doubled as a season saver, Lenzelle Smith Jr. not only missed a point-blank layup, he collided with a teammate and fell to the ground with the basketball.

Whistle. Travel.

It’s a minor miracle that the Buckeyes stopped Wisconsin on the ensuing possession to capture the one-point victory. Even the players thought history might be repeating itself.

Multiple times this season, Ohio State’s blown second-half leads when it seemed a win was all but assured. However, this year’s team isn’t the same group that was reliable with a late lead the previous three seasons.

“That’s just kind of how our year has gone,” senior guard Aaron Craft told Ohio State reporters in Madison. “The ball really hasn’t bounced our way too many times.”

Somehow, after all the damage, the Buckeyes are still 17-5 overall. It’s the 4-5 Big Ten record where the angst lies. Two of those losses came to Nebraska and Penn State, arguably the weakest teams in the hyper-competitive conference. Even in a down year, they’re inexcusable defeats.

But as negativity swirled in the notorious Kohl Center, a building Thad Matta had won in just once, there was a sense of calm on the Ohio State sideline in those final 8.4 seconds. What occurred when they took the court was the defensive intensity the Buckeyes displayed during the first half of the season when they were ranked in the top five.

Craft harassed ball-handler Traevon Jackson, and LaQuinton Ross – yes, LaQuinton Ross – helped supply a double team, which made sure Jackson couldn’t drive the lane. All the Badgers could do was get up an off-balance 3 at the buzzer. When it careened off the rim, Matta was seen hugging assistant coach Jake Diebler like a sumo wrestler.

“From my seat, I thought we had better composure, I thought we had a better pace about us and I think we executed better down the stretch,” Matta said.

Life in the Big Ten doesn’t get any easier. On the Big Ten teleconference, Matta referred to Ohio State’s squandered victory against Penn State and thrilling win at Wisconsin as “a typical Big Ten week.” It continues Tuesday night with the second of consecutive road games, this one at Iowa.

The Hawkeyes were loss No. 2 for the Buckeyes during their infamous tailspin. Despite playing away from Columbus this time, Ohio State couldn’t be in a better frame of mind. They enter coming off the biggest win of the season and with renewed energy, a different starting lineup and a bench that played outstanding.

“We just looked at each other and knew we couldn’t go selfish,” Craft said. “We can’t internalize things and expect everything to be all right. We have to play for a bigger purpose. If that’s playing for the guy beside you, then that’s what we need to do. I think you saw that.”

Craft scored all seven of his points in the final four minutes, and Amedeo Della Valle, Trey McDonald and Shannon Scott came off the bench to provide 26 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal.

The reinvigorated Buckeyes admit there’s a lot of basketball to play. But they’d be foolish to concentrate on the conference championship race. For now, the old cliché, “one game at a time” rings true.

Said Matta: “You exhale all your breath and relax.”


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bucknut94's picture

When the Buckeyes have the lead with 6 minutes left in the game it seems they have a brain fart. They begin turning the ball over, driving the lane and getting trapped. When I watch a game, I think, it is getting to the 6 minute mark left in the game, its time they screw it up and lose the lead. On the other hand, a couple of times they have closed the deficit and pulled the game out. It's like a roller coaster ride watching the last 5-6 minute of a game. I hope it gets straightened out soon.

jamesrbrown322's picture

Gotta admit, when he blew the layup and got the traveling call, I thought it was over.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

Zimmy07's picture

If Trey keeps getting better we might be dangerous by the end of the year.

Seattle Linga's picture

Agreed and the one goal should be to get better every day and play our best ball in late March - early April.

NitroBuck's picture

You could not be more correct.  Getting Trey to play solid D in the paint and make a play or two on offense is critical.  Amir plays decent D in the lane until he gets tired, but all too often, the Bucks have been abused inside when he steps off the court.  It just shows how much Evan Ravenel is missed for his solid play in a back up role.  I'm hoping Trey McDonald finds a way to contribute consistently.

Ferio.  Tego.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Speaking of Trey, during the game Saturday, Dan Dakich said something I had not heard about him. He said that Trey should've red-shirted his freshman year, but didn't because he didn't want to. 
I don't have any reason to doubt Dakich's account, but like I said, I'd never heard that before.

ColoradoBuck's picture

I've heard that on several occasions before, and it's still mind-boggling to me. That was one of the 2 or 3 most loaded rosters the Buckeyes have had in recent memory. It was quickly apparent he wasn't going to threaten Sullinger or Ravenel for playing time. Why not wait a year and get an extra year later on?

Mortc15's picture

There was more to like from the Wisc win than at any point this year I think. However, OSU's only two wins in their last 7 games were against teams that are now 1-13 in their last 14 games combined. If/when they beat Iowa, I'll finally say they've righted the ship.


ColoradoBuck's picture

The game tomorrow night has the potential to be this season's turning point. Count me as one who doesn't think Iowa is that much better than us. We blew a game against them we should've won to start this slump, and especially given Iowa's (slight) struggles as of late, what better way to end it than against the same team that started it?

Mirror Lake Jump's picture

What size shoe did they give Greg Paulus? it looks four sizes too big.

OSUFlash's picture

Not sure what my viewing strategy is for tonight so I'll be a game time decision. Against Wisky I tried something new for the first time. I purposely didn't watch the first half, tuned in during the 2nd half and then I went shopping (yes shopping) with my wife with 4 min to play.
And believe me the suspense was killing me; then while driving my phone make it's familiar sound when i receive a text. I told my wife to look at it because i knew it was one of my sons texting me the final score and when she read "We won 59-58" I about shit!
I think Celtic Woman is on PBS tonight at 7, maybe I'll tune into that instead of the game. :)


bucknut94's picture

When the Buckeyes have the lead with 5 or 6 minutes to go, they seem to have a brain fart and turn the ball over by making dumb mistakes. It seems they get out of their pattern and become a different team with 5 or 6 minutes to go in the game. It can be painful to watch missed easy baskets, turnovers, fouls and driving only to get trapped under the basket. Like Yogi Berra said, it's deja-vu all over again.