The Buckeyes (12-6, 1-3) lost to Minnesota 60-56 in overtime Wednesday, the latest game that they let slip away in the final minutes.
Indiana (8-7, 3-1) looked like an awful basketball team early in the season, but it has turned things around. The Hoosiers are coming off a 62-53 win over Michigan Saturday in Bloomington and find themselves in a five-way tie for second place in the Big Ten.
Indiana is led by 6-3 junior guard Bracey Wright who averages 18.9 points per game. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last year.
Other starters include: 6-2 junior guard Marshal Strickland (7.2 ppg, 3.0 assists per game), 6-2 freshman guard A.J. Ratliff (5.5 ppg), 6-5 freshman forward Robert Vaden (9.9 ppg, 5.1 rebounds per game) and 6-9 freshman forward D.J. White (12.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
The top player off the bench is 6-8 sophomore forward Pat Ewing (4.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg), the son of former NBA All-Star center Patrick Ewing.
Indiana is a small team for Big Ten standards. The Buckeyes will actually play a team that doesn't have a size advantage over them for a change.
"We have another great challenge ahead of us," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "Indiana is obviously a very talented team. Bracey Wright has proven he is one of the top scorers in the country and they've got a great support system around him.
"For us, going into this game, one of the biggest challenges we face is trying to put together both ends of the floor, playing solid basketball. When we put ourselves in a position to win a game, to not miscue or not execute down the stretch and open up the door for the opposing team."
Ohio State has won three of the last five games in Bloomington, including an 83-69 victory last season. The team has not shown much confidence on the road, but maybe its recent success at Indiana will help.
"Yeah, that's the one positive going over there, I think," Matta said. I've only been in there one time coaching (as an assistant coach at Miami University) and hopefully our guys… we need something good. We need to play a solid basketball game and try and get a little bit of the belief back in us. We've shown we can play some very good basketball.
"I go back to the LSU game, I think we played about as well offensively as we could. Unfortunately that game, we didn't play well defensively. And then conversely against Minnesota, I felt we played as well defensively as we played all year, but we didn't play well offensively. And that's one of the challenges for this team is putting all together and finishing a game out."
Indiana is clearly a different team than it was at the beginning of the season. Freshmen White, Vaden and Ratliff are playing much better.
"I think their young kids are getting more and more adjusted to college basketball," Matta said. "I think they are playing with a lot more confidence. And I think the biggest thing they've changed is their defense. I think they are really hard to score against."
Ohio State tied a season high with 19 turnovers in the loss to Minnesota, including a stretch in which the Bucks turned the ball over six consecutive possessions late in the game.
"We were just careless," Matta said. "A couple of times, we were not in the position we needed to be for the particular defense they were in. Just mentally, we were not where we were supposed to be. We weren't strong with the ball. Hopefully through (Thursday) and (Friday) we can get that corrected.
"I have always said this: I can live with turnovers, just not a lot of them. The biggest thing, I felt as poorly as we played offensively, we will kept ourselves in position to win the game. But then we gave the game back."
Matta was asked to comment on his team's psyche after a three-game skid.
"I'm not real concerned about where our psyche is," he said. "I want these guys focused on today at practice and trying to get a little bit better. Whether it be offensive execution, rebounding, whatever it is. I think the two games in a row now – three overtimes – I think that might weigh a little bit. But we've got to get back to having confidence in our system and what we do and taking care of the basketball. We're not a team that can turn the ball over 19 times and expect to win the basketball game."
Matta says his team is not showing any signs of fatigue after the back-to-back overtime games. "No, I don't think they're tired," he said. "I think we're in good shape. You only get so many cracks at games. And we're very aware of how much guys have played and how taxing the last two and half weeks have been with travel and that sort of thing. But I think coming off of (Thursday's) practice and (Friday's) practice, we don't play until 8 p.m. (Saturday) I think we'll be rested and ready to go."
Every game in the Big Ten season thus far, a different player seems to have his career game against the Buckeyes. They are hoping Wright is not next on the list.
"We've got to do a good job of making things difficult for him," Matta said. "But knowing full well that he has the capability to shoot from 26 feet and it go in. He can drive and he gets fouled. It's going to take a great effort on him, but it's also going to take a great support cast. More so than ever at his position, we're faced with (Iowa's) Pierre Pierce and even (Minnesota's Vincent) Grier the other night, weren't great 3-point shooters, but they just had a knack for scoring. I think Bracey Wright has both."
Ohio State senior guard Tony Stockman has been in a rut ever since the St. Joe's game on New Year's Eve. He did not score in the loss to Minnesota and is shooting just 42 percent from the floor this season (38 percent from 3-point range). Stockman also leads the team with 52 turnovers to go along with 50 assists.
Matta was asked to comment on Stockman's slump.
"As I watched the film Wednesday night, we didn't make shots," he said. "Those are shots that… the shots that we got were shots that we've made in other games. In Tony's case, I wish I could pinpoint it and give him a pill or something. But it just comes down to we've got to be able to do that."
Is confidence a problem with Stockman?
"I think so much of it comes from a guy's preparation," Matta said. "And not throughout the season, but through life. I think that it's getting yourself ready to compete at the highest level, because we are playing at the highest level. These teams we're playing, we're going to see some of the best players in the country. We've just got to get our minds right and prepare ourselves to play. As I've said all along about this team, we're striving for consistency from everybody. We're not a team – we've proven that two guys can play well and three guys can play OK – that's not good enough for us."
Matta has not considered shaking up his starting lineup for the Indiana game.
"No," he said. "I think that Vaden who they play at the four, I look at it like, ‘Finally we match up a little bit better with another team.' He is a skilled four man kind of like we are."
"Ivan has obviously shown that he is capable of getting off to great starts in the game," Matta said. "I think Matt, you look at Matt and he does a lot of different things, like his passing. Both guys rebound the ball OK. But I think, like LSU, when they went zone the other night, Matt made some great passes and really understood how we needed to attack the zone. They're the same, but they're a lot different. And like I've said, it would be nice to get them playing well on the same night. Both guys have shown they can do it, we've just got to get them doing it together."
* Senior center Matt Marinchick will make his final trip to Bloomington and obviously wants to come out with a win.
"We're going into this game thinking we are going to turn things around," Marinchick said. "Some of those losses have been kind of rough. We've lost a couple overtime games and some other close ones. It's a mental toughness thing and we're working on that. Coach Matta has been talking to us trying to get us in all aspects of the game, but especially mental. That has been a point that we need to improve on."
Marinchick usually gets a close-up look at Matta on the bench and he enjoys the fiery attitude that his coach carries around with him.
"I like it," Marinchick said. "He's intense. I like seeing how passionate he is. It kind of spreads around the team. When you see your coach jumping around, getting into the game and he's sweating just as much as some of us out there in the game. I like it. I think it gets everybody hyped and everybody playing really hard. When you see your coach is working as hard as you are on the sidelines, it's pretty impressive and it gets us really wanting to play hard."
* As for Stockman, he just shook his head when asked about the latest narrow loss for the Buckeyes.
"We felt like we let another one get away," Stockman said. "Same mistakes that we keep making at the end of the game: turnovers, not running plays right, giving up easy buckets, not boxing out, things like that. Being careless with the ball. Just the things that we need to correct if we want to win some games."
Stockman was asked what went wrong for him personally against Minnesota. He was 0 of 6 from the floor and committed three turnovers.
"I just think our whole offense wasn't clicking," he said. "We weren't getting the shots that we usually get. The open the shots that we usually get. We weren't running our offense the way we usually run it, where we're cutting and drawing and kicking and stuff like that. I think our whole team was struggling a little bit. Me probably more than anyone else."
Has Stockman's confidence taken a hit?
"I'm fine," he said. "I think our whole team basically is fine. We just lost a couple tough ones. The thing is that we are always there at the end of the game, it's just that we do a couple mistakes. If we get those out of the way, we'll win the game. So, I think our confidence is fine. My confidence is fine. We've got to get a win though."
Stockman makes it no secret that Indiana is a huge game for OSU.
"We need this one," he said. "Because losing three in a row, and if we lose this one, would be tough. So, we really need this one and I think everybody understands that. It's a crucial win that we need."
Stockman will likely check Wright for most of the game. J.J. Sullinger will also get a crack at Indiana's star player.
"There's got to be some people on help side and knowing where's he's at on the break and on the floor and make sure we give help to the guy that's guarding him," Stockman said of trying to contain Wright.
Indiana is riding a three-game winning streak. Stockman was asked if he would prefer to face a team that wasn't hot.
"It doesn't really matter for us," he said. "Hot or not, we've got to come and do what we need to do. Execute our stuff and try and win the game."
Notes: Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN Plus (Ch. 10 in Columbus). … Indiana leads the all-time series with Ohio State 97-69, including a 58-22 record in Bloomington. The Buckeyes have won six of the last 11 games in the series and three of the last five games in Bloomington.