Ohio State had a short motto as it got ready for a game at Michigan on Saturday. Senior forward Marc Loving mentioned it immediately after the 70-66 win, and junior center Trevor Thompson echoed it Tuesday in advance of tonight’s home game against Rutgers.
Simply put: “One time.” As in, this was one time for the Buckeyes to play together and give it their all in order to snatch a much-needed Big Ten road win.
“We just basically told ourselves one time, just give it everything we’ve got,” Thompson said. “This is going to be good, continuing to build off of it.”
It worked. Now, as Thompson said, comes the hard part of trying to carry over success from a solid game to the next game on the schedule. It’s a simple-sounding notion that has mostly eluded Ohio State this season, but one that needs to take root before it’s officially too late.
After fighting No. 6 Virginia to a two-point road loss on Nov. 30, the Buckeyes came home and sleepwalked through a win against Fairleigh Dickinson before losing to Florida Atlantic at home in overtime. The Buckeyes dropped their first four Big Ten games but then bounced back to win three of four, capped by a six-point home win against Minnesota. But a listless Ohio State team was blasted on the road by an Iowa team without conference-leading scorer Peter Jok to start a two-game losing streak.
With perennial conference cellar-dweller Rutgers on the schedule, it seems like a chance for the Buckeyes to grow some confidence after the win against the Wolverines. Just don’t use that word around coach Thad Matta.
“I’m not even looking for (confidence),” he said. “I could care less. I want to see us string something together, and maybe in a couple weeks I’ll gauge that. We know who we are. For this team to have confidence is probably not a good thing for them because we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I think we’re playing better the last week, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”
With starting point guard JaQuan Lyle nursing a bum ankle, Ohio State used a season-high 17 lineup combinations against the Wolverines. Fewer than half of them were used in the previous game, a Jan. 31 loss to No. 17 Maryland, and five of them hadn’t been used in at least the last two games.
The result was a team that looked dialed in and focused while getting positive contributions from everybody. Matta said the last week or so of practice has seen the coaches constantly changing lineups for scrimmages in order to see whose “ultra-competitiveness” comes out.
Thompson said the players didn’t notice the different lineups because the Buckeyes were “losing ourselves in the moment and playing as hard as we possibly can.”
For one time, at least.