If you've been following Ohio State basketball for the better part of the last three years, the following thought probably entered your mind at some point Thursday night: "This looks like last year's team."
The Buckeyes, who lost three Big Ten games last season by double-digits, were rolled by Penn State 79-56 on Thursday, in a game in which Ohio State was never really in from the tip.
The knock on Thad Matta's final two teams in Columbus was that the Buckeyes didn't play with enough effort or hustle, creating a style of basketball that was hard to watch. Following the loss to the Nittany Lions, however, Chris Holtmann said he didn't think it would be right to compare Thursday night to years past.
"I don't necessarily compare it to last year. It's a different team and a different makeup," Holtmann said. "Every team goes through difficult moments in the course of a season. I was not pleased with the way we played, but Penn State deserves a lot of credit for that."
Throughout the season, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate have willed the Buckeyes to victories and been the unquestioned leaders on and off the floor for Ohio State. As two players who have been through the ups and downs of the previous three seasons, both answered to the media in attendance at Bryce Jordan Arena on Thursday.
Tate said he didn't view the loss as a flashback to last season, but added that Penn State clearly wanted to win the game more than the Buckeyes did.
"I wouldn't say a flashback, we just have to learn our lesson. Make sure these don't compound. Things like this, they don't happen often," Tate said. "Giving up 45 points in the first half is unacceptable. We have to learn from that and make sure it doesn't happen again."
One of the problems Ohio State has had in conference games all season long is starting out slow and having to work its way back into the game. Five times this season, including Thursday night, the Buckeyes have faced double-digit deficits (Michigan, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota) and until the second loss to Penn State, Ohio State had come back to win every one. Tate didn't have a clear explanation as to why the Buckeyes didn't come out with the intensity needed to win, and added Ohio State perhaps didn't take the Nittany Lions as seriously as it should have.
"I really couldn't tell you. I thought we prepared pretty good yesterday. I think our mindset could have been better, knowing how good (Penn State) really is," Tate said. "Their record may not show it, but this is a tough team. They threw the first punch and they kept on punching. By the time we tried to throw one, it was too late."
Tate and the Buckeyes still control their own destiny in the Big Ten, thanks to Purdue's loss to Wisconsin on Thursday and the fact that they hold the tiebreaker with Michigan State. However, Ohio State likely can't afford another slip-up in conference play, and with two of its final three games coming on the road, Tate said the Buckeyes will have to improve their focus in order to reach the goals still in front of them.
"We are going into, in my opinion, an even tougher environment (against Michigan on Sunday) with the rivalry. They are going to have a 'Maize Out' or whatever and they are a top-25 team," Tate said. "We have to learn from this, and it's a quick turnaround, so we have to learn fast."