Intensity of Matta, Practices, Sparks OSU blowout
By Ben Axelrod
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s No. 6-ranked basketball team had just defeated a Big Ten opponent by 31 points, but the talk wasn’t focused on the game, but rather the days leading up to it.
“Not very nice,” OSU sophomore forward Jared Sullinger answered bluntly when asked how his coach Thad Matta treated the Buckeyes during the two days in between their 74-71 loss to Indiana and their 71-40 win blowout against Nebraska.
“But, we kind of needed that. We gave up that game against Indiana.”
Granted it came against a lesser opponent, but Ohio State looked like a completely different team on Tuesday against the Cornhuskers than it did on New Year’s Eve against the Hoosiers. In addition to giving up 34 fewer points, the Buckeyes held Nebraska to a shooting percentage 15 points lower than the 45.8 percent performance they gave up to Indiana.
Sullinger attributed the Buckeyes improvement to what they learned in just a matter of days.
“It was a life lesson as far as the game period. We gave up 17 lay-ups against Indiana and they got whatever shot they wanted in the second half,” Sullinger said.
“As you can see, we turned up our defensive intensity in this game tonight and so we were just ready to play basketball.”
Judging by the outcome of the Buckeyes’ battle with the Cornhuskers, that lesson appears to have been worth learning, even if it meant dealing with Matta, who admittedly was not the most pleasant person over the past couple of days.
“You are constantly trying to learn your team. Just getting these guys to understand the level that they have to play at every time they take the floor is our job to do,” Matta said.
“We went on Sunday very conceptual in practice and followed it up yesterday with a pretty vigorous practice. Just trying to get guys to understand what has to be done.”
The challenging practices were not anything new, however, for a young Ohio State team that features just one senior, one junior, and a plethora of sophomores and freshmen.
“Quite honestly, we’ve probably practiced this team harder than most teams that we’ve had,” Matta said.
“A lot of that just has to do with the youthfulness and the immaturity of this team and not quite understanding the level that they must compete at.”
By the looks of Tuesday night’s game, Matta’s messages got across to his players, especially sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas, who followed up a 5-point performance against Indiana by scoring 15 points against the Cornhuskers.
Thomas said that an adjusted mindset played a role in his bounce back game.
“It is what it is. I was still in there in the Indiana game. I still got some defensive stops, some rebounds, put backs, you know, that was a tough loss,” Thomas said.
“But this game I had my mindset focused.”
Despite the loss to Indiana—which handed this team its second loss of the season almost two months earlier in the schedule than last year’s—Matta still saw some positives in dropping Saturday’s game to the Hoosiers.
“Nobody likes to lose more than we do. It’s like I told our guys, last year, I think we learned a great lesson in the Kentucky game but the season was over,” Matta said.
“We had the ability to learn a lesson here in the end of December and continue to move forward.”
The positives, however, didn’t curb Matta’s intensity. It hasn’t always been the most pleasant environment in Columbus these past few days, but that’s something that Sullinger welcomes after the loss in Bloomington.
“Not taking nothing away from Indiana, but there was a couple of possessions when we watched film that we realized that’s not us and we didn’t play like us during that whole time in Bloomington,” Sullinger said.
“He wasn’t very polite and that’s what we needed to come into this game and put the fire back in our bellies.”
Despite Matta’s lack of manners around his team as of late, Sullinger doesn’t hold any hard feelings against the coach that he’s known since 2004, when Matta was coaching his older brother, J.J.
“I been around this program a long time, so that was nothing new. That’s not how coach Matta is,” Sullinger said.
“He doesn’t want to be the person who has to motivate the basketball team but after that tough loss against Indiana, it was only right.”