Back To Square One

There were plenty of good vibes surrounding the Ohio State men's basketball team following an important road victory against Michigan on Saturday, but those feelings might have been enough to keep the Buckeyes off their game against Illinois. At least, head coach Thad Matta thinks that might be the case.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – How did the wheels fall off so quickly?

That was the question being asked by fans of Ohio State basketball almost immediately after the Buckeyes were humbled by a 67-49 road loss to No. 24/25 Illinois that dropped the Buckeyes back into the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

Just three nights prior, OSU had traversed to face then-No. 25 Michigan and found a way to succeed in a place that had not treated the Buckeyes well this season – road environments within the conference. The victory gave OSU three consecutive wins and infused the program with a shot of confidence.

But one day prior to the game against the Fighting Illini, an interview session with local media sent OSU head coach Thad Matta scurrying back to the locker room to talk with his players.

"When I left (the media Monday) I went in and addressed the team and said ‘Fellas, I don't know how they were with you down there but everybody is like we arrived,' " Matta said.

His subsequent message to his players was the contrary, a reminder that each team in the Big Ten is not to be taken lightly. The overall performance put forth by the Buckeyes against Illinois would seem to indicate that they were perhaps paying more attention to what was being said about them rather than what their head coach was saying.

After a press conference where Evan Turner and William Buford talked extensively about how close this year's OSU team is, freshman center B.J. Mullens admitted after the loss that the Buckeyes had fallen apart against the Illini.

"We tried to come back and there was a lot of energy in this gym," he said. "We kind of broke apart. We've got to come back in practice tomorrow and try to fix that. We've got to grab each other and pick each other back up."

Although the Illinois student section was gleeful in its taunting of the Buckeyes, it did not appear to be much more hostile than crowds OSU has faced while playing teams such as Michigan State and Michigan on their home courts.

The Illini were coming off a 63-57 loss at Michigan State, and head coach Bruce Weber felt that the situation was one that gave the home squad a slight advantage on a younger OSU team.

"We may have caught Ohio State at a good time with the young kids who won a game like that at Michigan, we may have had a mental edge after a loss like that," he said.

From the get-go, the Buckeyes found themselves behind. Illinois guard Demetri McCamey connected on a three-pointer on his team's first possession, and the Illini would not trail for the entirety of the game.

The Buckeyes were able to pull even at seven-all when Turner tipped in a miss by classmate Jon Diebler, but two Illinois threes made it a six-point lead for the home team that would quickly swell to double digits. OSU was largely undone by turnovers, committing a season-high 20 in the loss.

"Turnovers were huge," Matta said. "There to start the game we were in the game and you're getting one to every two of their possessions. It was odd. Balls hit us in the hands, errant passes. It wasn't meant to be."

The loss was frustrating to a player like Turner, who was held to a season-low four points.

"I mean, it is hard because it feels like you're going up and down, you're going up and down every single time, you know," he said. "We've got to find some common ground and be able to do what we need to do."

The Buckeyes will not waste much time getting back to work in preparation for Sunday's game with conference front-runner Michigan State.

"You take wins, you celebrate them for 15 minutes and then you've got to shift gears and get ready to go again," Matta said. "The same thing with a loss. You've got to get yourself ready to play again because it just keeps coming at you, which is the beauty of playing in the Big Ten. That's what I love about it."

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