NEW YORK — The feeling of disappointment was palpable inside the New York Knicks’ locker room at Madison Square Garden. Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, was the temporary tenant for what proved to be an abbreviated first foray into the postseason after a loss to Penn State in a quarterfinal Friday.
The Buckeyes had entered the tournament with an eye on winning the whole thing, especially after letting a chance at a regular-season title pass them by during the final four games of the season. Instead, they dropped their opening tournament game for a second straight season.
The difference this year is that more basketball still lies ahead for Ohio State.
Last season’s loss to Rutgers on the opening day of the tournament dropped the Buckeyes from even NIT consideration and proved to be the final chapter in coach Thad Matta’s 13 seasons. That team, which time has revealed was ready for the season to end, was at the end of its rope.
This team now gets to stew on a one-point loss until it again takes the court. The rub is that it could be as many as two weeks between the loss to Penn State and whenever the Buckeyes will open their first NCAA Tournament in three years with an expected at-large bid.
“The whole getting prepared and having this (time) off, it’s going to be tough,” senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “It’s going to be a challenge. We’ve got to learn from this one, because now it’s do or die. Your next game is going to be your last if you lose.”
The Big Ten’s desire to hold its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden led to it being played a week earlier than normal. The result was a compressed regular-season schedule and, now, a significant layoff until postseason play resumes.
First-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has said he would reach out to Gregg Marshall, Wichita State’s coach, for advice on how to handle the time off. He has also spoken with Brad Stevens, coach of the Boston Celtics, who used to coach at Butler and also had to deal with such a situation.
The Buckeyes will now look for a blend of rest and development that will have them energized to resume play and not rusty. Practices are going to involve intra-team scrimmaging, Holtmann has said, with starters and reserves equally represented.
Finding passion to work might not be hard after the loss to the Nittany Lions.
“We’ve got to keep this anger for the next couple of weeks,” junior Keita Bates-Diop said. “The tournament is going to be close games like that, so when we learn from our mistakes the last four minutes and break it down then we can come out on top.”
The off time comes in contrast to what the Buckeyes endured at times. After at one point playing five games in 11 days, Ohio State will play one game in the span of either 20 or 21 days after closing the regular season Feb. 23 at Indiana.
The nature of the Penn State loss had the attention of the Buckeyes as they prepared to wait nine days to learn their next opponent.
“The great thing is we get a chance to practice and hopefully get a little bit better and rest,” Holtmann said. “We’ve got something to play for. How many teams right now can say that? That’s the bright side to this.”