It was about five questions into the first news conference since a third straight Big Ten loss that Ohio State men's basketball coach Thad Matta grew tired of looking too far ahead. With Ohio State at 5-10 in conference play and four days removed from a stunning home loss to Nebraska, Matta was juggling questions about coming back from that game and the direction of his program when he cut off a query.
“I know where you guys are going with this, and it’s difficult,” Matta said Wednesday afternoon. “We just lost a five-point lead with 30 seconds to go in the last game. I’m not going to say that everything is great. I’m still reeling from that loss. I think we can address these questions at another time. I’ve got to coach a basketball team.
“For me to say, yeah, we are 100 percent on the right page, we just lost a game that we felt like we put ourselves in a position to win for 39 minutes and we didn’t win it. I’m still not real happy about that and to project or look back on all that stuff, I’ve got a 3 o’clock practice today.”
The loss marked another blow to a program that has taken plenty of them during the last two seasons. The Buckeyes are facing a second straight NIT berth or no postseason appearance at all, and athletic director Gene Smith has declined opportunities to discuss Matta’s body of work or the trajectory of the program until the end of the season.
Today, that left Matta to defend the job he’s done while trying, in his words, to get the program and culture back to where they were in his early days at Ohio State. He described himself as a little bit more down than normal but still believing that better days are ahead.
“We’ve still got work to do in the process,” Matta said. “It’s not as easy in building a program as snapping your fingers and saying we want to be back and it’s back. It doesn’t work that way. A lot of situations in coaching pertain to life. Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked down to learn your lesson. Hopefully our guys are intuitive enough to see what’s going on. We’ve had some situations this year that I’m still trying to come to grips with what has transpired, the things that have happened and how they’ve happened and we haven’t been able to stop them.”
>>Video | Ohio State coach Thad Matta on the future of the program
Matta pointed to a loss at Michigan State this month where an out-of-place official collided with Marc Loving as a pass intended for the Ohio State senior sailed out of bounds to deny him an open three-point look. Early in the second half against Nebraska, Ohio State led by 11 when Loving came up with a steal but Jae’Sean Tate was called for traveling on what would have been an uncontested fast-break opportunity.
The Cornhuskers responded with a 6-0 run that got them back into the game.
“That’s what I’m trying to get them convinced of making our own breaks,” Matta said. “Where is that of getting guys to believe? That’s the challenge.”
Sophomore guard C.J. Jackson said “We’ve got to start making a few more plays here and there. Last game we were up 11. Instead of allowing them to go on a run, maybe trade baskets.”
After the Nebraska loss, Matta offered a scholarship to Pickerington Central point guard Jeremiah Francis, a four-star prospect in the class of 2019. Earlier that weekend, the Buckeyes offered a scholarship to 2017 four-star point guard Mark Smith from Edwardsville, Illinois. Tuesday night, Matta was spotted watching Jahvon Quinerly, a four-star point guard prospect in the class of 2018 from Jersey City (N.J.) Hudson Catholic.
“We’ve been on the road,” he said. “I think that for me personally, I’m very, very excited about what the future holds in terms of that. Obviously we’re trying to add to that. I’ve been out and about, probably a couple nights a week all across the country. Seen some good ones, I will say that.”
Matta said the efforts show that he’s committed to the program for the long-term. His contract runs through the 2019-20 season.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” he said. “No question about that.”