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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In its first six losses this season, the Ohio State basketball team (18-7, 8-5) was able to find an excuse for its defeats. Against Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, the Buckeyes fell to opponents who have all been ranked as top-10 teams this season, and on five of those occasions, the Buckeyes' losses came on the road.
Ohio State's seventh loss also came away from the friendly confines of the Schottenstein Center, but neither that nor Wisconsin's No. 20 ranking made the Buckeyes' 71-49 loss to the Badgers on Sunday any more explainable, let alone excusable.
"We didn't have the mindset to go in there and get the win we needed in the Big Ten," OSU forward Sam Thompson. "As a result, we embarrassed our program, we embarrassed our university and we understand that's something we can't do."
That embarrassment that Thompson spoke of included what was ultimately the greatest margin of defeat that the Buckeyes have suffered in more than three years. Allowing Wisconsin to shoot 52.7 percent from the field, Ohio State trailed by as many as 26 points in a game where Buckeyes' coach Thad Matta all but conceded defeat with more than 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
Searching for an answer for OSU's worst performance of the season, junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. circled back to the Buckeyes' "mind right, game right" mantra.
"Even before we started the game, people weren't taking it seriously. When the ball went up for the jump ball, it was all bad from there," Smith said. "I don't think it really mattered who we really played for the Wisconsin game. It was us abandoning ship. We didn't do anything we were supposed to do."
As a result, OSU scored a season-low in points, but it was on the defensive end of the floor that the Buckeyes looked their worst.
Ohio State allowed the fourth most points in a game that it has through 13 contests of conference play, but it was during an 18-0 Badgers run in the first half that the Buckeyes truly bottomed out on Sunday. Not even contesting some shots while missing easy looks of their own, OSU looked like a shell of the program that has won the past three Big Ten titles.
"We have to get back to playing the defense at the level that we have to play defense at," Matta said. "You're not going to hold a team scoreless, you're not gonna not give up a lay-up, you're not gonna not give up an offensive rebound, but it's gotta be the next possession, you've got to get it done. You've got to find ways. That's the biggest thing I'm after."
Although Matta vowed on Sunday not to let his team forget about its beat down at the hands of the Badgers, the OSU head man also knows that he can't dwell on the past. The Buckeyes have just five games remaining in conference play before the Big Ten Tournament, starting with tonight's 7 p.m. tipoff with Minnesota (18-8, 6-7). And much like Ohio State, the Golden Gophers find themselves in a place of desperation, having also lost three of their past four games.
Minnesota's most recent loss also came on Sunday, when it suffered a 21-point defeat the hands of Iowa. Currently unranked and sitting in sixth place in the conference standings, the Gophers could certainly use a signature win, and beating Ohio State on its home court could give them just that.
"They're probably in the same boat as we are in terms of what needs to be done," Matta said. "They've got the pieces to the puzzle."
Calling Minnesota the most physical team that the Buckeyes will face all year and a date with No. 4 Michigan State looming on Sunday, Matta knows that he and his team don't have any time to feel sorry for themselves. Ohio State will have to live and learn from its disastrous outing on Sunday, or risk hitting an either deeper bottom in the near future.
"That's behind us in terms of that one's over, what do we next? That's my biggest concern," Matta said. "You can't change the past ... we have to be ready to go."
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