No easy answers for stopping team's slide

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's Kyle Young dives to grab the ball from Maryland's Jalen Smith during the second half. [Tyler Schank/Dispatch]

Ruts still exist in the Great Plains where covered wagons traveled West in the 1850s. Value City Arena might not be the Oregon Trail, but Ohio State similarly is stuck in a midseason furrow.

After four consecutive losses, OSU is going nowhere fast, and a dilemma is at hand: ruts in team sports do not end on their own. There is no riding it out, hoping to reach stable ground without having to sit, wait and stew for a while.

After losing 75-61 to Maryland on Friday night, the Buckeyes are stewing.

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“We’re in most of these games. That’s what is frustrating,” point guard C.J. Jackson said.

Yes and no. True, in body Ohio State (12-5, 2-4 Big Ten) is the same team that opened the season with seven straight wins and stretched its record to 12-1. But in reality this bunch is what we thought they would be at the beginning of the season, which is to say the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

The rut that Ohio State finds itself in might well be the norm, not the exception. Without an NBA lock or even prospect on the roster, it is looking like more bumpy terrain ahead.

As sometimes happens, the Buckeyes are victims of their own success. After going 25-9 last season, including 15-3 in the Big Ten, the hope that this team might trump last year’s success ballooned beyond what was realistic.

“Listen, when you go 12-1 it changes your perspective, the fans’ perspective, everybody’s expectations,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said as the Buckeyes prepared for the Terrapins. “A number of people told me in the offseason, ‘You made a critical error winning your first season.’ I could rattle off 100 times when … fans on the street said, ‘Coach, what are you doing, winning so much your first year?’”

To his credit, Holtmann went the other way. He owed it to last year’s seniors to put them in the best position possible to succeed. And things went swimmingly.

This season it’s a different story, as a very good Maryland team showed. The Terps collapsed on Kaleb Wesson, making Ohio State more one-dimensional; a recipe for disaster.

“We have to make plays,” said Holtmann, who has been in this position before, but not with the Buckeyes. During his first season coaching at Gardner-Webb, the Runnin’ Bulldogs lost nine in a row. “Our guys recognize that and we’re trying to give guys freedom, which potentially could open up some things.”

Things did open against Maryland, but the Buckeyes did not take advantage, shooting just 6 of 26 (.231) from three-point range.

“My biggest frustration tonight was lack of activity defensively. And second was we had stretches where we didn’t take great shots,” Holtmann said.

Holtmann has been concerned for a while that OSU might hit a bump or two. The Buckeyes lost a lot of experience and leadership off last year’s team.

“The thing that's the most eye-opening for this group, which is completely understandable, is the amount of energy we face when we play other teams now,” he said. “If we’re not tough enough and strong-willed enough, and don’t play with enough of an edge, then we won’t like the result.”

Neither will Buckeye Nation. As losses mount, the love affair with this coaching staff will begin to ebb and the comparison game will begin. For the record, Thad Matta lost four games in a row five times in 13 seasons at Ohio State. But he never lost five straight. Somehow, previous Buckeyes teams found a way out of the rut by finding their groove.

Purdue visits the Schott on Wednesday. Wagons ho!


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