Searching For Answers

There was plenty of emotion in Evan Turner's voice. Speaking to reporters one day prior to Ohio State's game with Purdue, the freshman guard found himself nearly at a complete loss to explain just what was wrong with the Buckeyes. Take a look at what the team was saying heading into Tuesday night's nationally televised game with the co-Big Ten leading Boilermakers.

Evan Turner appeared to be on the verge of tears. Matt Terwilliger just shook his head, struggling to find the right words. Thad Matta spoke in clipped sentences, using words like "consistency" and "maturity" over and over again.

All were in response to one key question phrased many different ways and posed to the members of the Ohio State men's basketball team: What is wrong with the Buckeyes, and is there still time to fix it?

As evidenced by the reactions displayed by all three members of the team, the answers to those questions are eluding them as well.

"I think that for whatever reason it's been this theme with this basketball team all season and the consistent level of play for 40 minutes – we just haven't had it," Matta said.

That much has been glaring in the past few weeks as the Buckeyes have likely played themselves out of a spot in the NCAA tournament. Entering tonight's game with Purdue (7 p.m., ESPN), OSU finds itself mired in a second-half slump that has seen the team go 5-9 in its last 14 games.

Even more alarming in those nine losses – four of which have come in OSU's last four games – is the fact that the Buckeyes have consistently put themselves in position to win games but have been unable to come up with an equalizer.

In the first eight of those nine losses, the average margin of defeat was 5.9 points and the largest loss was a 10-point one suffered to Michigan on Feb. 17. But in each of those eight losses, the Buckeyes had their chances – and they know it.

"We're playing tough," Turner said. "That's what's so crazy about it. We're playing so hard. We have to pay our dues in certain situations."

If that is the case, the Buckeyes have some serious positive karma lying ahead of them somewhere. In each of the eight losses prior to Minnesota, the Buckeyes found themselves with chances to pull even or take the lead down the stretch.

That is where the team has struggled. In particular, that is where they have struggled from beyond the three-point arc. In the eight losses, the Buckeyes are shooting a dismal 13.9 percent (10 for 72) from deep once they have winnowed the other team's deficit to its narrowest margin of the second half – a figure bolstered by the fact that senior guard Jamar Butler hit two treys in the final 13 seconds of the team's road loss to Indiana on Feb. 26.

Matta said he has not seen any differences in the way his team has shot the ball from a fundamental standpoint when the final outcome is still up for grabs.

To be successful, good clutch shooters need a certain mentality, "but I think it's easier said than done," he said. "It's not something that you just say, "Hey, this morning I'm going to do it.' It's got to be instilled in you for a long, long time."

That mentality that might be lacking is just one part of the puzzle for the Buckeyes, however. It ties in with the fact that the team has shown in certain stretches that it is able to play with some of the top teams in the country.

But being able to play with top-ranked teams and actually beating them are two different things, and that is a fact the Buckeyes are having a hard time swallowing.

"If we were going out and we were playing hard every game and losing, that wouldn't be as bad as how it is now," Terwilliger said. "We're on a roller-coaster of intensity. When it's going good it's going good, but when we aren't making shots we're tying into our defense and it kind of goes up and down like that."

Those shooting numbers in the clutch went out the window when the Buckeyes went out and fell apart in the second half against Minnesota. The 14-point loss suffered at the hands of the Golden Gophers was the worst OSU has endured since getting run off the court at Butler on Dec. 1 – a 65-46 loss.

Terwilliger said he did not feel that the team quit in the second half of that game, but Turner had trouble finding words when trying to describe why the Buckeyes were so outplayed at Minnesota.

"I don't honestly know," Turner said. "I can't tell you. It just happened. Losing the past four games … unbelievable."

Tuesday night, the Buckeyes will try to take their first step back toward the NCAA Tournament bubble against a team that sent them into their tailspin. Purdue's 75-68 victory Jan. 12 saw OSU within one point at 54-53 with 6:54 remaining but unable to come away with the victory.

Purdue, on the other hand, has found itself tied with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten with a 14-2 conference record entering Tuesday night's game.

When asked about the struggles his team has endured since its last meeting with Purdue, Matta offered a dose of perspective.

"I think everybody thinks you've got problems," he said. "I've had two friends in the last week, one who had a stroke and one had a heart attack (Sunday). It kind of puts it in perspective that you've got to find the good, the bad and you've got a job to do."

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