WASHINGTON — Let’s hope Ohio State coach Thad Matta didn’t think last offseason was as tough as it was going to get in Columbus.
A year after nearly an entire recruiting class transferred out of the program, Matta has an even bigger problem this time around — the players who are still on the roster. Ohio State’s disappointing season found a new low Wednesday when the Buckeyes lost 66-57 to the worst team in the league, Rutgers, in the opening round of the 2017 Big Ten Tournament.
“I would say so, yeah,” Matta said when asked if this season was as perplexing a season as he’s seen. “Just from the daily battles that we’ve had just in terms of getting guys ready to play, that sort of thing.
“Tonight we weren’t ready for the fight at the level we needed to fight for, for whatever reason. March Madness, all that stuff, I told the guys, ‘this is where players play. This is where players make money.’ … But yeah, rough one, no doubt.”
Phrases like “getting guys ready to play” and “weren’t ready for the fight” are not great for a program used to having plenty of success with Matta in charge. There were lots of phrases like that after this game, code for it’s a will thing, not a skill thing in Columbus.
“We didn’t earn the win today,” C.J. Jackson said. “We haven’t had our best practices leading up. We just haven’t had the right mindset all year.”
After the game, there were plenty of dejected Ohio State players in the locker room. Rutgers had 19 offensive rebounds, leading to numerous put-backs and second-chance points. It was hustle plays, effort, focusing enough to not make silly mistakes.
Marc Loving spoke to the media and then sat at his stall, motionless, for minutes. He’s the only senior on the roster. The rest of the Ohio State players have a lot to figure out this offseason, whether the Buckeyes accept a bid to one of the off-brand postseason tournaments or not.
“We all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we actually care about this program, this university, the fans and each other — me included,” JaQuan Lyle said. “I feel like at times we don’t play with the heart and passion that we should. That is the biggest thing.”
That is a pretty big thing, something that the talent Ohio State possesses apparently couldn’t overcome this season. There isn’t a 5-star phenom currently slated to show up on campus for next season, either.
Change is going to have to come from the players in that dejected locker room Wednesday night, or there will be large-scale changes made for them.