Since Ohio State suffered its first loss of the season, a surprising 73-68 defeat at the hands of UT-Arlington, things have gotten increasingly more difficult.
First, it was mid-major power Louisiana Tech, a regular-season league champion each of the past three seasons (the most recent two in Conference USA and the 2012-13 champions of the Western Athletic Conference).
Next was Memphis, the first team on Ohio State’s schedule that could match them athletically. Finally the Buckeyes welcomed No. 10 Virginia to Value City Arena. While the Buckeyes showed improvement in each of those contests, they lost each and are in the midst of their first four-game nonconference losing streak, the first such stretch since opening the 1957-58 season with seven consecutive losses.
Things finally appear to get easier Saturday as the Buckeyes (2-4) host Virginia Military Academy at 4:30 p.m.
“As I’ve told them, we’ve got to stay the course, we’ve got to continue to find ways to improve,” head coach Thad Matta said. “(Assistant coach Jeff Boals) sent me this thing that we’re 350th unluckiest team according to KenPom and I said I don’t need a computer to tell me that. I see that. With that said, we’ve got to continue to make our own breaks. Like I said, the little things matter. Our margin for error is so small and those are things we’re trying to get better at.”
The Keydets (3-3) are the 226th ranked team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and should give Ohio State a chance to snap its streak.
Ensuring that happens comes down to slowing down two players as QJ Peterson (20.2 points per game) and Julian Eleby (16.3) are the only two Keydets that average double figures and that pair takes more than half of VMI’s shots.
“They have two guys that shoot considerably more shots than anybody else, so just trying to keep those guys under control and obviously not let anybody else score a lot,” Kieta Bates-Diop said of VMI.
As a team, the Keydets average 25 three-point attempts per game and connect on 35.5 percent of those tries. So far this season the Buckeyes are surrendering seven made three-pointers per game.
Despite their prowess behind the line, the Keydets have struggled this season, dropping three of their last four games.
Still, Thad Matta enters the game with plenty of concerns given the state of his team.
“It’s funny because they have the capability of putting up huge numbers,” Matta said. “Getting our guys to understand the runs and it’s one of those don’t be surprised type of games where we’ve got to know who we’re guarding and trying to take away and the help has got to be in rotation because they’ll go four-out, one-in motion and do a lot of moving, pick-and-pop. Kind of a long answer, but that’s sort of the game plan. Honestly, my thing is I just want to score more points than they do so it’s pretty basic elementary.”
If they do, it will be the Buckeyes first win since Nov. 17, their second game of the season.