Everyone saw it, Trevor Thompson was just the one to say something.
“You’re not saying a word,” Ohio State’s starting center called out to his team during a defensive possession in the first half against Penn State. “Talk!”
At that point the No. 7 Buckeyes were losing to Penn State, a team that finished 7-11 in conference play and one that Ohio State topped by 20 earlier in the season. The culprit was clearly the team’s defense.
The Buckeyes were not communicating, doubling when they didn’t need to and leaving Penn State shooters wide open as the Nittany Lions hit seven first-half threes, leading by as many as 10 in the first 20 minutes.
Thompson made it clear he was just as guilty as the players he was yelling out from the bench.
“We can’t let what happens on the offensive end trickle down to the defensive end,” he said. “There was a play where I missed a shot and then went down and fouled a dude, that’s a perfect example. We can’t have those type of plays we have to move on to the next play.”
The second half was a different story. The NIttany Lions hit just two threes after intermission and shot 37.5 percent in the second half as Ohio State earned a 79-75 second round Big Ten Tournament win.
“I feel like in the second half we did a really, really good job of talking and communicating,” Thompson said after the win. “The biggest thing I kept saying before we went out in the second half was that we had to play with a sense of urgency and a sense of pride and I feel like we did a really good job of the second half doing that.”
Why it took so long, and why that level of communication is not a constant for the Buckeyes is harder to explain.
It’s clear Ohio State is at its best when it’s playing well on the defensive end – think the Buckeyes wins over Kentucky and Iowa – and that strong defensive play comes from communication.
“It’s one of those things where we have to come as a group, we have to talk to each other, communicate with each other,” freshman forward Mickey Mitchell said. “We’ve just got to be loud all together. It can’t just be one guy or two guys it’s got to be everyone. We do come out there sometimes and not talk as much. We’ve got to step it up before the game.”
That wasn’t the case against Penn State, but the Buckeyes woke up. Ohio State had a clear talent advantage over the Nittany Lions, allowing it to get by with inconsistent defensive effort. That certainly won’t be the case every time out, and not in Ohio State’s third-round tournament game against Michigan State, and has cost the Buckeyes dearly this season.