CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – If it feels as if you have seen this before, it is because you have.
And you haven’t.
Many of Ohio State’s January problems came back to the surface during the team’s 69-60 loss to Illinois on Tuesday night.
But even during Ohio State’s recent five-game losing streak, we have not seen the Buckeyes blown off the court.
And yes, a nine-point margin may not constitute a traditional blowout, but Ohio State trailed by 17 points in this game at one point in the second half and the decision was done before the Buckeyes got it back into single digits.
Ohio State finds itself at 3-6 in league play, 12th in the conference with losses to the two teams below them in the standings with a difficult schedule still in the offing.
All the good feelings from last week’s win over Iowa have flown out the door as the Buckeyes and their fans are left searching.
“I feel like this one hurt the most for me personally,” Ohio State guard Bruce Thornton said after the game. Ohio State’s freshman point guard had eight points in the game as his shot has started to return after a wrist injury.
The Buckeyes only put up 26 points in the first half of the game on 31-percent shooting. The Illini were not able to capitalize early and let the Buckeyes hang around. It was an eight-point margin at the half but the little things that have plagued the Buckeyes returned as Ohio State missed front ends of one-and-ones in the first half, leaving points out on the floor and that eight-point lead could have easily been just four if the Buckeyes would have done better from the line. The Buckeyes would finish just 12-20 from the line on the evening.
“Just the level of attention to detail and the small things,” Thornton continued. “It just sucked, that’s very controllable. There are some small things that you can do, and you can control the game and that a lot of people don’t see. But I feel like when we take care of those small things, we will be alright.”
Ohio State couldn’t do anything in transition on Tuesday night, scoring just one point on the fast break. The Buckeyes were held to just eight assists on the night after a much more robust total against Iowa, back to their old tricks as the offense bogged down.
And yes, Zed Key was far from 100-percent in this game, there was a question going into gameday if he would be able to play, and not only did he play, but he started. But Key would not get on the scoreboard until the 12-minute mark of the second half and while he did finish the night with eight points, the Buckeyes sorely needed their captain to find more success on the floor.
Another stark difference in this game compared to past games during the streak is that Brice Sensabaugh was not able to get things going. He did end the night with 14 points, but it was a difficult 14 points on 5-13 shooting, 0-2 from beyond the arc and just 4-7 from the line.
Sensabaugh has scored in double figures in every game since the Duke loss and while his 14 was not far off the 19.8 points per game that he averaged during the loss, the Buckeyes were just never able to find any sort of offensive rhythm as the Illini proved that their defense was significantly better than the Iowa Hawkeyes defense.
“We’re messing up on similar things that we know are correctable, that this team is more than capable of,” senior forward Justice Sueing said. Sueing had 13 points for the Buckeyes but also struggled to find any prolonged success.
As one of the few returning seniors on this team, Sueing is taking upon himself to be a voice in the locker room and on the court for this Buckeyes roster that is a mixture of first-year freshmen along with several transfers as the Buckeyes had to rebuild the roster from last year to this one.
“Regardless of how the age difference or whatever, we know how good this team is. We’ve shown it, it is a matter of working and getting back on track,” Sueing added.
The critical moments of this game were at the start of the second half when the Illini were able to stretch an eight-point lead to 12 in just 30 second and move it up to 17 in the first five minutes of the half. At that point, it was a challenge just to get it back to single digits, just focusing on one possession at a time.
“It was frustrating because of the talk that we were having before going out there to play, you know, we opened up the second half… not well at all,” Sueing said. “They went on their little streak and, uh, put us and we dug ourselves into a hole that was hard to get out of, you know, and the second half regardless of the runs we were making.”
Things are not going to get any easier as the Buckeyes have likely played their way out of the NCAA field if the field were drawn this week, sitting 12th in the Big Ten, no matter how great the committee may feel that the league is.
There are still 11 games left in the season and of course the Big Ten Tournament. Get hot at the right time, and the sky could be the limit. But have we seen anything from the Buckeyes over the last month to lead anyone to believe that the light at the end of the tunnel is anything other than a speeding train coming down in the wrong direction?
It all starts with Indiana on Saturday, a Hoosiers team that beat Illinois by 15 points recently in Champaign. It will be a tall task but every game in the Big Ten seems to be that with no lay-ups on the schedule.
But the clock is winding down on this season and the margin for error is rapidly vanishing. If the Buckeyes can’t solve these little problems, some big ones will be on their hands as fan discontent and apathy mount.