Seeking To Break The Streak

The Buckeyes have not lost much in recent years on the hardwood, and typically when they have that game has been followed by a victory. Riding a three-game losing streak that has seen Ohio State play some of its best basketball of the season, the Buckeyes square off against Illinois on Tuesday night.

If you ask Thad Matta or Jamar Butler about the last time Ohio State had a three-game losing streak, you will get a blank stare and a shaking of the head.

It was back during the 2004-05 season when both were newcomers to the OSU campus and enduring their first seasons as Buckeyes. Under the tutelage of Matta, the OSU squad faced a season with no postseason aspirations thanks to self-imposed sanctions but still managed to post the program's first 20-win season in three years.

During the 04-05 season, the Buckeyes suffered both four- and three-game losing streaks. In the next two years, OSU had just a combined nine losses while taking home consecutive outright Big Ten titles and never losing consecutive games.

"It seems like that was forever ago," Butler said. "Any time you lose three games in a row it's tough, no matter what situation you're in. We're not used to that here."

But as the members of a young OSU team have worked to mesh with each other, the Buckeyes have seen their fair share of struggles this season. Those have been capped with a three-game losing streak suffered thanks to a brutal road stretch that saw OSU face Purdue, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 3 Tennessee and head home after suffering close defeats.

Although Butler said the team is feeling down after losing three straight games, they are taking heart in the fact that they have shown the ability to be a very good team in significant stretches against top-level talent.

"We lost to some great teams and we were right there," freshman guard Evan Turner said. "That's a good and bad sign. The bad sign is that we lost three games. The good part is that we learned from them and we got better. We didn't quit. We kept playing hard through those losses and showed where we can be at."

Those efforts nearly came to a head in OSU's 74-69 loss to Tennessee on Jan. 19. Against a Volunteers team bent on revenge for the two losses suffered at the hands of the Buckeyes one season ago, OSU played 30 minutes of what Matta described its best basketball of the season.

Still, it was not enough to prevent the Buckeyes from dropping their third consecutive game.

Asked if he believes in moral victories – the kind achieved when a team fights through a tough situation and makes significant strides despite not achieving a victory – Butler responded with a simple "no."

Turner said the only time he could remember losing three consecutive games was maybe when he was a kid playing against his older brother, Darius, in their backyard.

Butler said the team has learned a few lessons from its last three games, chief of which is to not fall behind early.

"You have to be ready to play at all times," he said. "You can't come out and let a team jump up and put 20 points on you and start trying to come back and playing hard."

The Buckeyes will try to snap their skid with a return to Value City Arena against Illinois, the same team they opened Big Ten play against with a 74-58 victory Jan. 3. In that contest, Butler poured in a career-high 32 points including a stretch where he scored 15 consecutive points for OSU.

This time around, he is hoping for a little more help from his teammates. Chief on that list is Turner, the shooting guard who popped for a career-high 21 points against the Volunteers.

Butler said he will not necessarily be looking to get the ball to Turner more but admitted that he will be trying to keep him involved with the offense.

"I wouldn't say I look for him. If he's open I'm going to get him the ball. He can make plays and I'm going to try to put him in situations to make good plays. But if he keeps playing the way he's playing, I think I will go to him a little bit more."

The Buckeyes tip off against the Fighting Illini at 9 p.m. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

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