Cagers Deal With Adversity, Crater Loss

After opening the season seeing nothing but Irving Berlin-inspired blue skies, the Ohio State men's basketball team is now two players down and coming off of a loss as it prepares to start Big Ten play tomorrow against Iowa. The Buckeyes face having to replace Anthony Crater in the rotation as well as the ramifications of a blowout loss Saturday and Crater's public breakup with the program.

After Saturday's blowout loss to West Virginia, the Ohio State men's basketball team staged a players-only meeting to discuss how it would respond to that 76-48 home loss.

Little did it know it would have one fewer player by the time it steps onto the court tomorrow for a midday New Year's Eve showdown with Iowa to open Big Ten play.

Freshman point guard Anthony Crater asked for a release from his scholarship the day after Ohio State's loss, leaving the Buckeyes down two players from their opening day rotation.

With the team's most experienced player, junior swingman David Lighty, already on the shelf with a foot injury that is expected to keep him out at least another month, the new blows of the loss to West Virginia and of Crater has Ohio State in a precarious position even though the Buckeyes are 9-1 and sit ranked 24th in the country.

It wasn't so much that the Buckeyes lost to West Virginia but how they did so that caused such alarm. Head coach Thad Matta was disappointed in his team's inability to make a stand at any point as the Mountaineers ran away, but that stand may have taken place after the game in the form of a meeting called by the team's elder players, including leading scorer Evan Turner.

"We just talked about where we go from here," junior P.J. Hill said. "It's how you respond to a loss. Are you going to go up, like the team did a couple of years ago when they lost to Florida? Greg (Oden) and them, they went on a long win streak. Or are we going to go down like we did last year when we lost to Texas A&M and then just kept going down?

"We had a choice to make right then and there, and we let them know, we're going up. This is a reality check, a humbling experience, and we can't let that happen again."

Only time will tell how much the loss of Crater hurts the Buckeyes, who now have just two players categorized as point guards in Hill and starter Jeremie Simmons. The latter, who has started every game, is more of a scorer, as evidenced by his 7.5 points and 2.4 assists per game in 26.6 minutes.

Crater, a native of Flint, Mich., who prepped last year at Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy, was a three-star recruit according to Scout. Entering Ohio State, he was billed as a distributor who needed to make some progress when it came to scoring, traits that were confirmed when he made just 3 of 15 shots and scored 1.2 points per game while averaging 1.9 assists in 13.1 minutes per game. He played in every contest.

He could continue to have an affect on the team, as his transfer has played out in the media, with members of his camp accusing Matta of lying both about his future role as a starter and the team's plans for Simmons, who transferred in from the JUCO ranks this offseason.

Matta refuted such claims Tuesday afternoon while meeting with the press.

"What we promise kids is you're going to have an opportunity to get a great education and play college basketball," he said. "When people ask me, ‘Coach, am I going to be a starter?' I say, ‘I didn't tell Greg Oden he was going to be a starter, and if there was ever a guy I was going to tell was going to be a starter, it would have been Greg Oden.'

"The good thing is Anthony and I talked about it and he said, ‘You didn't promise me anything.'"

As for being called a liar in published reports, Matta joked, "Well, I've been called worse as a coach. But no, it's unfortunate."

He later added that Crater decided to leave in search of a program in which he could earn more playing time.

With the freshman now gone, there are a number of options when it comes to the lineup. The team's big setup that features Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens underneath with Turner on the wing could see more time, and both Hill and freshman Walter Offutt could see increased playing time.

Offutt has played in five games and scored nine points without an assist, while Hill, another former JUCO player, is in his second year as a reserve for the Buckeyes. After averaging 1.2 points in 5.8 minutes per game last year while spelling Jamar Butler, Hill has played in just four games this year with six points and two assists.

"He's practiced hard for 60 straight practices and wants an opportunity and is probably going to get it now," Matta said.

So far, the Buckeyes have appeared to not let the adversity get to them. Matta noted that his young team tends to quickly move from task to task without dwelling on the past, but he still hopes that the team's loss to the Mountaineers inspires the team going into league play.

"I think that as we look at the West Virginia game, you look at the things we didn't do well," he said. "You hope that that serves a little bit as a motivational tactic without anything being said."

What Matta might not have known is that it already had, starting with the players' meeting after the game. If the Buckeyes' heads were in the clouds based on the undefeated start and high ranking before that game, they seem to be plenty grounded now.

"I think the West Virginia game really was a reality check," Lauderdale said. "I think winning games against some tough opposition, you sort of get a little laid back and a little cocky – ‘If we just show up, we'll be fine.' And West Virginia really exposed that. I think now more than anything, we just need to show up ready to play for every game because the Big Ten is an excellent conference."

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