The Buckeyes fell 74-66 to the Jayhawks in a battle of top-10 teams – and a rematch of last season's Final Four – thanks in large part to disappointing shooting performance from the field. Ohio State made 30.8 percent (20 of 65) of its shots against KU, including a paltry 25.0 percent (9 for 36) in the second half.
It's not surprising, then, to know that one of the main topics of discussion as Ohio State heads into its nonconference finale Saturday afternoon against Chicago State is shooting and the confidence the team has in doing so.
In rehashing the defeat one final time before looking ahead to the battle against the Cougars, Matta said one thing stuck out, especially during a 17-minute stretch in the second half during which OSU made only three field goals.
"The shots weren't going in," Matta said. "I thought we had some good looks. You have to give Kansas their due. They played tremendous defense. We didn't put the ball in the basket.
"You needed a couple of those (to fall). It kind of came down to an easy-basket game. Whoever got the most kind of got the momentum, and that was what appeared to be the biggest difference in the game."
Junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who made only 3 of 13 shots against the Jayhawks, said not letting the bad shooting performance into the Buckeyes' collective heads will require mental toughness. He added some of the Buckeyes might be lacking in confidence when Ohio State is on offense.
"Right now at this point in time, a few guys are having a few issues about being confident when they take shots," Smith said. "A lot of that stuff is going to come down to how you prepare before the shot. You've got to shoot the shot in your head before you even get the ball. I think sometimes players take their minds off shooting a shot and try to observe what's going around them instead of focusing on making that shot.
"You can't do that out there, especially when you play great teams like Duke and Kansas."
Smith added that a better defensive performance wouldn't hurt, either. Kansas made 51.0 percent (25 of 49) of its shots and pulled away after holding a narrow 37-35 halftime advantage. Matta has stressed that good defense will lead to transition offense and more scoring, something Smith said has been a focal point all season.
"We knew coming into the season that this type of team that we have would have to be defensive-oriented," Smith said. "We knew that a lot of our offense would come from our defense. Sometimes we forget that.
"We try to focus more on us not making shots vs. us not letting the other team score. If you play great defense, even if you can't make shots the other team can't make shots, either. When you've got that much toughness, the game could end up 7-6 and if you have seven you win the game. Of course, we have to get back to that mentality and try to spark our defense more than we do our offense."
One number that stands out from the Kansas game is 31, which represents the number of three-point attempts the Buckeyes shot. Only eight went in. Smith missed all seven of his attempts from beyond the arc and called the figure "unacceptable."
"At a certain point in the game it seemed as if that was our hope to catch back up," he said. "Coach tells us, ‘You're not going to be able to make a 9-point shot or you're not going to be able to save the day with one shot.' But it seemed like out there at times, that's what was on guys' minds – me especially. I just kept telling myself, ‘Just keep firing them. They're going to have to fall eventually.' I figured you make a few of them, and you start to slowly catch up. It sparks the defense, and if we play a little harder on defense we'll get those stops. Unfortunately the game didn't go that way."
With the KU game in the past, all that remains between the Buckeyes and another bruising Big Ten season is the Cougars. Chicago State, members of the Great West Conference, bring a 3-11 record to Columbus and, according to Amir Williams, a dangerous attack. The Cougars are led by senior forward Jeremy Robinson, who averages 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
"They're a scary team," he said. "They can come in and have a very good transition offense, which we've had problems with the past couple of games. It's something we have to key in on in (on Saturday)."
New Court Debut: Saturday's game will be the first the Buckeyes have played on the new playing surface at Value City Arena. The women's basketball team made their debut on the court Dec. 27 when Jim Foster's squad earned an 88-50 victory against VCU. Matta's charges ran on the court earlier in the week and practices on it Friday afternoon.
Smith and Williams gave it solid marks.
"I like the new court," Smith said. "Not (just) from the design standpoint. That's really nice, but it seems like the court is wider. It has more spacing on it. I don't know why it seems that way, but I feel like that personally when I step on the court. The lanes (seem) much deeper and wider."
Added Williams: "We all definitely talked about how the court looks much wider than it was before. … It definitely does seem wider than it was before."
Of course, that's not really true. The new court has the same standard dimensions that are used in college basketball. Matta was asked about what Smith and Williams said and paused.
"Now you know what I'm dealing with," Matta joked. "I don't know. I hope it does help our spacing. I think the color (of the court), it's a lighter tint. One of the coaches says it looks like a bigger court. I haven't noticed anything drastically different. If it helps them, then it helps us."
The dimensions haven't changed, but the court is technically shorter. According to Schottenstein Center building engineer Mike Damas, the court is "about 2 3/8 inches thick" compared to the previous court, which was 2 ¾ inches thick.
"It's a thicker court and a stronger court," Damas said.
The court is the third in the 14-year history of Value City Arena. The previous one was used for seven seasons and according to Damas was starting to get more dead spots and become more expensive to repair.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the new court is its look. Much like the court used by Illinois at Assembly Hall, the floor will have darker wood at center court that outlines the shape of its respective state. The new look at VCA was chosen from 12 samples that were created by OSU's Creative Services.
Of course, longtime Ohio State fans will immediately think back to St. John Arena when seeing the shape of the Buckeye state at center court, which was a major feature of the court in the vernable facility.
"Coach Matta was really adamant that he wanted that on there," Damas said. "The state of Ohio in the background is a great look for it."