Stop if you’ve heard this one before.
Ohio State fell behind by double digits, rallied, then came up short.
Sound familiar? It should.
The Buckeyes hosted 17th-ranked Maryland on Tuesday night at Value City Arena and this game looked like plenty others Ohio State played the last two seasons. The Terps took a 10-point lead early in the second half before the Buckeyes cut the deficit to one point four separate times.
Ultimately, though, it was Maryland which walked away with a 77-71 victory. It was the seventh-straight Big Ten win for the Terrapins. For Ohio State, it was the third loss in its last four games.
“We played better, but we didn’t play good enough,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “We’ll come back in, start again and get ready for Saturday. We’ve got to continue to climb the stairs to success.”
Except Ohio State hasn’t had much success this season — particularly in Big Ten play. With the loss, the Buckeyes now sit with a 3-7 league record. Last season, when Ohio State missed the NCAA tournament, it finished 11-7 in the conference.
What Matta was referencing, though, was the process that is a college basketball season. It’s an ongoing exercise for Matta to get his team to improve throughout the course of the year.
But while Tuesday’s effort was certainly a better one than Saturday’s loss to Iowa, and Ohio State is a better team now than it was at the beginning of the year, the wins aren’t coming. And the Buckeyes are running out of time.
“We’ve just got to work on buying into what Coach Matta says and just trying to get everybody locked in,” said junior forward Jae’Sean Tate, who finished with a team-high 20 points. “For us, tonight, having as many people locked in as we did, we were right there. We have to get everybody like that.”
That seems like something that shouldn’t be an issue for a team that’s been together for almost two years now, though. How does that continue to be said following these close losses?
“Part of it could be effort, but part of it could just be are you locked in throughout the whole game and what’s going on on the court?” senior forward Marc Loving said. “Is your mind in the right place? That’s nothing that can be coached or that’s nothing that one guy can get you out of.”
Tate said Ohio State held team meetings following its dismal performance at Iowa over the weekend. The Buckeyes needed them, he said.
And while Tuesday’s performance against a top-20 team was certainly improved, it did not result in a win. That’s what this comes down to at this point for the Buckeyes: wins and losses.
As the calendar flips to February on Wednesday, with just eight games remaining in the regular season, Ohio State is running out of time to earn some of those victories.
It might officially be desperation time in Columbus.
“You’re in those days where there’s got to be a toughness element about you in terms of what you bring to the table every single day,” Matta said. “When we get that, we’re a pretty good basketball team.”
Added Tate: “We’re not there yet, but we have made some improvements since Iowa and we’ve just got to keep working to get to where we want to be. There’s a lot of basketball to be played and we’ve got to figure it out because it’s not too late.”