Buckeyes Seeking Focus For MSU Game

While breaking down the team's loss to Illinois and looking ahead to the game against Michigan State, the Ohio State men's basketball team continued to point to the obvious -- a lack of focus -- as the reason for its last loss. The hope is that things will be different this time around.

If one word has emerged as motivation for the Ohio State men's basketball team since its lopsided loss to Illinois, that word is focus.

Focus, as in, "When it comes to us, it's focus," as sophomore guard Jon Diebler said. Focus, as in, "I think our focus needs to be changed," as sophomore center Dallas Lauderdale put it.

Or, more aptly, as in "The Buckeyes need to play with more focus if they want to remain competitive within the Big Ten." Three nights after earning a hard-fought road win against then-No. 25 Michigan that gave OSU plenty of momentum moving forward, that same young team came crashing back to earth with the loss away from home to the Fighting Illini.

Looking back on the loss in advance of Sunday's showdown with No. 7 Michigan State (3:45 p.m., CBS), the Buckeyes largely attributed this latest defeat to a lack of focus on the part of the players.

"We came off a huge win at Michigan and we just felt like we were on top of the world," Diebler said. "We didn't come ready to play for some reason. Especially in the Big Ten on the road against a good team like Illinois who's very good, you have to bring it every night."

That much was obvious, as the Illini controlled the game from the opening tip. Unlike in Big Ten road losses to Minnesota and Michigan State, the Buckeyes did not mount any sort of sustained, successful counter punch this time around.

Asked what an effective response would have been from his charges, Matta had a few immediate answers.

"For starters, taking care of the ball," he said. "I think that was what we didn't do a very good job of in that game and never really recovered in that regard. If things didn't go well for us offensively I didn't think we came back and defended quite the way that we needed to (in order) to get the stops that we needed. Illinois did a great job. They made some tough shots on us, but they kept the momentum on their side and kept going."

Perhaps most concerning is that Matta said he has seen similar play from his charges at various times throughout this season.

The result is an OSU team that now has to prove itself all over again, and it must do so against a Spartan squad that suffered an upset loss to Northwestern earlier this week. To get themselves ready for that challenge, the Buckeyes are intensifying the old cliché of taking things one game at a time.

"I think our focus needs to be changed to getting better every day, taking it one day at a time not looking forward to Michigan state or Michigan," Lauderdale said. "I think we need to look forward to (each day) and getting better as a team in practice. Illinois is over. We've got a new game. I think we need to get better today."

Although the Buckeyes have earned road wins against ranked foes in Miami (Fla.) and Michigan as well as a win against Notre Dame on a neutral court, the inconsistency they have shown to this point is still a product of the team's learning process.

This latest loss has reminded the Buckeyes that they can not allow their focus to waver from any one game.

"Us being a young team, success is a blessing and a curse," Lauderdale said. "When you're successful, you feel like you're on top of the world. That's a downfall in college basketball because every game you have to bring it. You can't ever feel comfortable."

A sign of hope for the Buckeyes is the fact that they have already played the Spartans this season. Although MSU seized control with a late first-half run and never trailed in the second half, the Buckeyes were able to keep it competitive in the second half and came a few plays away from being in position to climb even with the home team.

That lesson has not been lost on Diebler, who said the loss to the Spartans fit into a different category than the one just suffered at the hands of Illinois.

"We feel pretty confident that we can beat them," he said. "We looked at film from last time we played them at their place. They beat us by nine but we did some things we could've improved upon. We just lost to Illinois where we feel we didn't play very well. This is a chance to redeem ourselves.

"I think it just comes back again to coming in ready to play. They came in and as coach said they threw the first punch and we didn't respond. We just sat there and took it. At Michigan State we stood up to them and kept throwing punches at them as they were doing to us."

If they remain focused enough this weekend, perhaps they will find a way to land a few of those punches and avoid coming up short again.

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