COLUMBUS, Ohio — There’s no escaping the memory of last season for the Ohio State basketball team.
The Buckeyes missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, losing to foes like Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech in the nonconference schedule and then getting blown out by Indiana (85-60) and Maryland (100-65) during an up-and-down Big Ten slate.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta has made sure his players remember each of those occurrences, as well as what it felt like to be relegated to the NIT.
“Every time we mess up in practice or in the weight room, he constantly reminds us (about the NIT),” junior Kam Williams said. “I think that’s good for us. It keeps us motivated and keeps us level-headed.”
Matta’s relentlessness on that topic isn’t designed to torment his players but rather to beat them over the head with the idea that anything less than returning to the NCAA Tournament is unacceptable.
Anytime he sees something that resembles the negative forces that surrounded last year’s team — by the end of the year, four of the five true freshmen had decided to seek transfers that were ultimately granted — he steps in with a reminder about what happened then and what the Buckeyes need to happen now.
“When you look at Ohio State basketball — and we’ve been to seven straight NCAA tournaments and then we go to the NIT — it’s like, ‘Gosh, we were on the mountaintop at Ohio State,’” Matta said. “But from our perspective, we don’t like the way the season went last year. Having the ability to point things out when they happen and say, ‘Hey, this happened here and you had the exact same body language as that one day on the road. What’s going to help you get better?’”
The good news for Matta is that the players seem to share his disgust over last season. In addition to Williams’ comments above about the benefits of Matta’s nonstop reminders, junior Jae’Sean Tate also supports the idea that ignoring the problems won’t do any good for the Buckeyes.
“We all know the ‘it’ – the NIT,” Tate said. “But it doesn’t even stop there. It’s the games that we should have won early on, it’s the games we beat ourselves in, it’s the games that we didn’t come out ready to play, it’s not being mentally prepared, it’s not holding each other accountable. It’s all that. We have to make sure everything we did negatively last year can’t be allowed to happen this year.
“You’ve got to learn from last year. Last year happened. We just have to make sure this year that we do everything in our power to not have a repeat. I’m not even going to speak that into existence because it’s not going to happen.”