WASHINGTON — Given the varying degrees of bonkers on display during a wild Big Ten regular season, we should be conditioned to the unexpected by now.
But the Ohio State Buckeyes’ 66-57 loss to Rutgers — 14th-seeded Rutgers, the league’s last-place squad — Wednesday night at the Big Ten tourney still landed as something of a shock.
The Buckeyes (17-15) committed 14 turnovers to the Knights’ 13 and were outrebounded by a whopping count of 47-31. Despite going to the free-throw line 28 times, the 11th-seeded Bucks came away with only 15 makes (53.6 percent) to show for it.
And Ohio State coach Thad Matta still looked stunned about what transpired as he addressed reporters after the contest:
Can you explain that one?
“We went into a stretch there where we weren’t scoring and rebounding. We just — we had no toughness to go get the basketball. It was a cumulative effect. And just the look on our guys’ faces in timeouts. And 15 for 28 from the (free-throw) line. The field goals, we had 5 field goals in the second half. I’m not sure our minds were where they needed to be to compete in this basketball game.”
Why weren’t their minds there?
“Mmm. (Pauses) I don’t know. Don’t know.”
What did it mean to get that vote of confidence from athletic director Gene Smith earlier in the week?
“I think it’s ridiculous that we have to do stuff like that. Gene and I had met a couple weeks ago and it’s — it’s amazing that’s what people do nowadays in terms of … this is a very fickle business that we’re in and unless you’re intimately involved on a day-to-day basis, people chose the negative side of things. It’s what they do …
“It is what it is. You know, it’s just — it’s sad sports has come to where you’ve got to do stuff like that. Just coach your team, and if they liked it, they bring you back, but if they don’t, they don’t. But it’s amazing. It really is.”
Was this the most perplexing season you’ve ever been a part of?
“Yeah. I would say (so). Yeah. Yeah. Just from the daily battles that we’ve had, just in terms of getting guys ready to play and that sort of thing. We’ve said all along if this team (plays) not great basketball, just consistent basketball, we would’ve been a heck of a basketball team. We’ve beaten some pretty good teams this year, but tonight, we weren’t ready to fight at the level we needed to fight, for whatever reason. (Laughs) March Madness, all that stuff … rough one, no doubt.”