COLUMBUS, Ohio — As a tumultuous, inconsistent season winds down, Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta has another backer in his corner.
Indiana coach Tom Crean came to Matta’s defense shortly after handing the Buckeyes a 96-92 loss. The loss ended Ohio State’s regular season at 17-14, 7-11 in Big Ten play.
“I’m fortunate to beat a team with a coach I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for,” Crean said. “Thad is — in my mind, when he’s eligible, he’s earned his way into the hall of fame. I’ve always felt like that, especially since he’s been here. But you could see it at Butler and you could really see it at Xavier. Certainly what he’s done here is amazing.”
Matta has taken Ohio State to the Final Four in 2007 and 2012 and has won the Big Ten Tournament four times. He has five regular-season conference championships in his time at Ohio State. However, the Buckeyes’ win total has declined in each of the last six seasons. After winning 34 games in 2010-11, Ohio State has posted win totals of 31, 29, 25, 24, 21 and, this season, 17.
“We all hit skids, right?” Crean said. “And we have a lot of respect for (Ohio State). Tremendous amount of respect like I said for him as coaches. We knew we were going to have to play really well. I’m proud of the way our players played. They were locked in.”
Matta was also on the receiving end of praise from an opposing coach after a home loss to Michigan State earlier this season.
Here’s what Spartans coach Tom Izzo said in January:
“I don’t care what the hell the people in Columbus say,” Izzo said. “It’s a good team. They’ve played the toughest schedule in the league as far as three road games and Purdue at home. They should have beat Purdue if they make a free throw. (They went to) two tough places to play in Wisconsin and Minnesota. They were going through their issues. We’re all going through them.”
Ohio State struggled throughout the season. The Buckeyes will play on Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament. They’ll need five consecutive wins to capture the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, they’re facing the prospect of missing the Big Dance for the second consecutive season.