The Ohio State basketball team has lost five of its past seven games, but it’s a lot easier to look at things through a glass half-full perspective after winning at the always difficult Kohl Center.
In fact, Thad Matta has only won twice in his entire career at Wisconsin.
The 59-58 victory was the type of gritty, defense-first slugfest that fans of Big Ten basketball have become accustomed to, and much of the thanks goes to Aaron Craft. The rosy-cheeked point guard put the Buckeyes on his back for the final few minutes by scoring all seven of his points and providing critical defense on Wisconsin’s final possession.
When Ohio State was trailing by seven points late in the second half, it appeared as if it was heading to another loss. With games at Iowa and against Big Ten-leading Michigan on the immediate docket, the wheels for the season may have fallen off completely with another heartbreaking defeat.
Sure, the Badgers are reeling themselves, but coming back on the road against a nationally ranked squad is still notable. After all, we are talking about the same team that recently lost at Nebraska and at home to Penn State.
It was the first time that the Nittany Lions ever won at the Schottenstein Center.
Clearly, this was a much-needed win, especially with so many difficult Big Ten games coming up. The question now becomes whether the victory at Wisconsin will spark a second-half turnaround in conference play for the Buckeyes.
At the very least, there don’t appear to be any chemistry problems if Lenzelle Smith Jr. is to be believed (per Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors):
We all feel like we’re one big family. We know that some of the fans might not be on our side right now, but we’re not going to let that get to us. We know who we’re playing for and why we’re playing this game that we love. When we stick together, we’re going to be all right.
The Buckeyes held a players-only meeting before the Wisconsin game. They had a similar meeting last season after losing to Illinois and actually went on to win six of their next seven contests, so there is precedent for a turnaround.
If we are arguing for a momentum-inspired run of victories, it is worth looking at the remaining schedule. Yes, there are a number of difficult games (it is the Big Ten after all), but there are also winnable contests against Purdue, Illinois, Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana.
The Buckeyes live and die on their defense, and it was back in the contest against the Badgers. Wisconsin only scored 58 points total, 19 of which came on the free-throw line, and shot an abysmal 17.6 percent from behind the three-point line (3-of-17).
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, hit five of their nine threes.
Yes, the 55.6 percent clip from downtown is impressive, but it is more important going forward that Ohio State only shot nine threes total. Far too often during the recent struggles, guys like Smith and LaQuinton Ross forced too many contested long-range shots early in the possession, which is virtually a turnover assuming they don't go in.
It was also notable that Matta went with a starting lineup change in Madison with Sam Thompson starting in Shannon Scott’s place.
Scott and Craft being in the game at the same time is difficult for the Buckeyes' offense, because neither is a great long-range shooter. Look for Matta to mix and match the lineup a bit more in the second half of the Big Ten schedule.
Finally, the win at Wisconsin won’t spark a turnaround without some form of leadership. Craft demonstrated just that in the final minutes in Madison, and whoever called the players-only meeting also showed the initiative that is important when trying to snap out of a slump.
With leadership in place, a potential lineup shift to inject a boost of energy into the starters and the formidable defense back, it’s not much of a stretch to suggest the win at Wisconsin will spark a turnaround. Winning at home will be critical, even if the Buckeyes do lose at Iowa the next time out.
Four of the next six are at home, and only one of those four games is against a ranked team.
It’s time for the Buckeyes to start racking up some wins again.
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