Marc Loving sat at the podium, intently, with his left hand over his mouth and stared off into the distance. It was easy to tell this one got to Ohio State’s senior forward.
Loving isn’t one to show much emotion — he rarely has throughout his career to this point — but following the Buckeyes’ 76-75 loss to Purdue on Thursday night it was clear Loving and the rest of his teammates were bothered. Once again Ohio State had a chance to win a game against a top-tier team, and once again it came up just short.
“We just didn’t execute in the last four minutes,” Loving said, briefly.
So has been the story of the last two seasons for the Buckeyes. They again found themselves in a tightly-contested ballgame at the final media timeout against the Boilermakers on Thursday, and it was the visiting team that made more plays down the stretch to earn the win.
The loss itself was hard enough for Ohio State to deal with. But things got worse after the game when head coach Thad Matta announced junior forward Keita Bates-Diop would miss the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his leg. Bates-Diop will have surgery next week and is expected to be granted a medical redshirt.
The loss puts the Buckeyes at somewhat of a crossroads in their season, too, as they now sit at just 10-5 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten. Things aren’t getting easier, either. Ohio State’s next three games: at Minnesota, at Wisconsin and Michigan State at home. That’s a brutal start to a conference slate and there’s a real possibility of beginning the league season 0-5.
Matta and his players said after the loss to the Boilers, however, that they aren’t worried. At least not yet, anyway.
“That’s why you take it one game at a time,” Matta said. “I know when the schedule came out that I looked at it and said, ‘Uh oh,’ but by the same token, we’ve got to get ourselves ready to go on Sunday in Minneapolis. Minnesota is playing great basketball right now.”
Should Ohio State be concerned, though? After all, the potential for this slow start in conference play to snowball is real and the Buckeyes’ upcoming schedule certainly doesn’t do them any favors.
There is obviously a long way to go, but Ohio State might already be running out of chances.
“I wouldn’t say there’s concern because we work our butts off every day,” Tate said. “We’re in here every day. We’ve just gotta keep grinding it. We’ve just gotta to keep working. We’ve just gotta keep trusting coaching.
“The outcome is going to be there because from all the years I’ve been here, this team I really feel like we want it. This team, I feel like everybody is trying hard and we’ve just got to figure out a way to bring that emotion and energy every night. We’re working hard and eventually we’re going to hit our stride. I know it. I can feel it.”
When JaQuan Lyle’s potential game-winning 3-point attempt bounced off the back of the rim Thursday night, Ohio State’s point guard nearly sank to the floor. Trevor Thompson, who missed a free throw with 15.1 seconds to play when the game was tied at 75-all and then committed a foul which led to Purdue’s go-ahead free throw, was emotionally drained walking through the postgame handshake line.
Loving and Tate were the two selected by the school to answer questions from the media following the game. Both showed a bit more emotion than usual as they sat at the podium and attempted to give answers about another close loss.
“When you feel like you’ve worked as hard as you possibly can and left it out on the floor, guys are going to be emotional because it’s just a love for the game and you want to win,” Loving said. “But hats off to them. They edged it out.”
It was clear this one hurt. The only question that remains now is if Ohio State can save this season before it’s too late.