Riding a three-game losing streak, things aren't getting any easier for the Ohio State basketball team.
The Buckeyes (2-3) are coming off a competitive 81-76 overtime loss to Memphis and will be facing their first ranked team of the season when No. 10 Virginia comes to Columbus as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight at 7:30 p.m.
As they have in each of their losses this season, the Buckeyes struggled with turnovers, free throw shooting and foul trouble against the Tigers. Ohio State turned the ball over 19 times in the Memphis game, committed 28 fouls and hit just 11 of its 19 free throws.
Those mistakes must be eliminated if the Buckeyes are going to have a chance against the highly ranked Cavaliers (5-1).
“I think for us, taking care of the basketball and free-throw shooting," head coach Thad Matta said when asked what the team needed to work on most. "We’ve got to get guys who aren’t shooting a high percentage to make some more free throws. I think overall for us just the continuing to learn the concepts of the defense from game to game that we’re trying to put in. Trust me, it’s nothing major that we’re not good enough yet to make massive changes, we are who we are and we’ve got to get better at who we are but I think the other thing would just be our offensive execution in terms of if we call a set, understanding there’s a reason we’re calling that and it’s we as a staff think this could give us the best advantage to score."
Scoring on Virginia has not been easy this season. One of the best defensive teams in the country over the past few years the Cavaliers have allowed just 58.3 points per game this season despite an early-season loss to George Washington. Virginia ranks second nationally in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency defense.
While the Cavaliers have been their typically dominant defensive selves this season, Tony Bennett's team has been operating at a much faster pace than in recent seasons. Virginia has scored more than 80 points in all but one game this season and ranks fifth in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency offensive rankings.
"They’re playing a lot faster," Matta said. "We may want to slow it down a little bit with how we do in open floor stuff, but they’re I think averaging 81 points a game. What they have is what great teams have, they can play any way you want them to play and they’re still effective. Along those lines, we have to be careful saying let’s turn this thing into an up-and-down game, but we’ve got to try our best to get some easy baskets because they’re very, very hard to score against.”
"It is definitely a veteran basketball team that is going to be a great challenge for us because they won’t come in and beat themselves. Our thing is yesterday, today, we’ve got to get ourselves ready to be as sound as we possibly can to have a chance to win.”
That means avoiding the careless mistakes that have plagued the Buckeyes all season. The Buckeyes are averaging more than 16 turnovers a game and in their three losses have allowed teams to score 55 points off those mistakes.
Jae'Sean Tate, one of five Ohio State players with at least eight turnovers so far this season, said the young team needs to be worried about making the smart play not the big play.
"The energy was there, the effort was there, we just got to continue to try to play smarter," the sophomore said of the loss to Memphis. "Practice we’ve just been trying to put emphasis on valuing the ball, making the smart play and just not turning the ball over.”
Playing smarter also means cutting down on fouls.
Ohio State is in a place its never been with Matta as the coach, under .500. The Buckeyes have a chance to claw out of that hole Tuesday night, but it will be a tall task against the tenth-ranked Cavaliers.
"Trying to see the bigger picture, not just think about the loss but think about the big picture," Tate said. "There’s a lot of basketball to be played. We might be 2-3 right now, but it’s not too late to turn this around.”