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Buckeyes rally after being booted from practice
Question of the Day
Facing a huge game against Wisconsin the next day, one that could determine the Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes should have been focused and ready for an intense practice on Feb. 25.
Instead, they labored through it, prompting their coach to blow his stack and tell them to go home.
It was a big risk with a crucial game the next day, but Matta couldn’t sit around and watch his team fritter away what he thought could be a good season.
“We’ve always tried to set the stage of how we practice is how we play _ at high speed, we don’t stop. It takes guys a little longer to get the intensity and what we’re trying to get,” Matta said. “And it took this team took a little while to understand.”
The Buckeyes stumbled after Matta’s gamble, losing to Wisconsin 63-60 the next day. They rallied after that, though.
Sullinger, who had just eight points and six rebounds against Wisconsin, shook off his midseason funk and concentrated just on his game, not outside influences like officials or what people were saying about him.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State’s second-leading scorer in the regular season, picked up his output in the NCAA tournament, leading the Buckeyes with 21.8 points per game while giving the Buckeyes’ a tough, who-do-you-stop combination with Sullinger.
Overall, the Buckeyes played more as a team, regained some of their early season swagger and found a way to deal with adversity when it comes up instead of backing down from it.
“Even though we lost the game the next day, maybe it opened their eyes to maybe what the coaches are telling us is true, that the way we play games is the way we practice,” Matta said. “Unfortunately, we had to take a home loss for it, but maybe it helped us in the end.”
The Buckeyes got an opportunity to show how far they had come after a win over Loyola of Maryland to open the NCAA tournament.
Ohio State rolled to a 19-point victory, but it was chalked up to the Buckeyes being bigger, faster and stronger than Loyola, not because the team was playing well.
The players, fortified with their new sense of purpose, had that it-could-have-been-better feeling, too, so they decided to hold a team meeting before their next game against Gonzaga.
Gathered in a Pittsburgh hotel room, they talked about focus, not taking anything for granted, communicating better, playing more as a team instead of individuals _ a players-led refresher course of many of the same things Matta stressed after his get-out-of-my-sight move.
The players’ meeting only lasted 10 minutes or so, but, like their coach’s practice toss, the message made it through.
The next day, Ohio State fought through Sullinger’s early foul trouble for a 73-66 victory over Gonzaga, earning a trip to the East Regional in Boston.
By Michael P. Orsi
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