On the day after Ohio State’s 71-49 loss at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes had a great practice, Lenzelle Smith said.
They gutted it out on the floor, they saw a glimpse of who they know they can be, had a “clicker” moment, the junior guard noted. So when the Ohio State came out for practice on Tuesday, the day before the Gophers come to Value City Arena every bit as desperate, the Buckeyes were feeling pretty good.
But that cannot be in Ohio State basketball, where finishing fifth in the Big Ten – where they are currently after losing three of their last four – is unacceptable.
“Coach [Thad] Matta immediately said ‘I don’t know what you guys are feeling good about, you just lost,’” Smith said. “[He said] ‘It’s embarrassing. We’re not going to let this go, we’re going to beat this drum until you guys realize that this can never happen again ever in history.’”
Sound like shocking words from the Ohio State skipper? That’s what this Buckeyes team feeds on.
“I walked in yesterday, made some big plays for our team and I was feeling kind of good you know, going toward this game,” Smith said. “But he grounded me, brought me back and he kind of gave me that extra edge and hunger today and that’s what kept me having a good practice today because I was angry at what happened to us and I didn’t like that feeling.”
Watch out Gophers, this Buckeyes team is angry.
A team that expected to fight with the best, contend for the league title and head into the NCAA tournament on a strong note has suddenly hit a major pothole.
Sound familiar? It should – the Gophers, after dropping seven of their last ten, are every bit as desperate as the Buckeyes.
But are they feeling the same desperation?
Gophers coach Tubby Smith see-saws between being tough on his players and protecting them, and he can’t seem to figure out which way – if at all -- best motivates his bunch. The players, while admitting they need to perform better, often fall to complimenting the other teams while calling themselves “still one of the best in the country,” as Trevor Mbakwe did after Sunday’s loss at Iowa.
Joe Coleman likes to say “that’s just the way it goes” in basketball sometimes. Austin Hollins, after the Gophers’ major breakdown against Iowa’s zone, said the team was prepared but “a few things didn’t go our way.”
On Tuesday, Mbakwe reiterated that the team was “disappointed” and “embarrassed” after such a let down from the Wisconsin game to the Iowa game. But the mood is certainly different than the one that will embody the Scarlet and Gray.
“We’re just looking at it as getting wins – we don’t try to put extra pressure on ourselves,” Andre Hollins said. “There’s always pressure to win, but we don’t put extra pressure to say ‘You’ve got to get it right away’ or something like that … We have to stay mentally tough. We have to stay poistive, because just thinking about the negatives is just going to worsen things, it’s not going to help you at all. So we have to look at it as another opportunity, it’s another day, another day to play basketball, another day to get out to Columbus and have fun.”
And certainly, there’s something to be said for showing up to practice with a light heart and a positive mind after a loss – and looking ahead to a new day. But in Columbus, the new day doesn’t come until the bad day is avenged.
Asked whether Matta seemed angry after the poor stretch, Lenzelle Smith fired back. “Absolutely he’s angry,” he said. ‘I think any winner would be angry at the type of loss that we suffered this past weekend … and if you’re not angry, I question those people that are here and part of this program. If you’re not angry about a loss than you should not be here.
“We not only embarrassed ourselves, we embarrassed our coaching staff, our university, our school president, our university and our fans – we embarrassed everybody. We didn’t answer the call, we didn’t do anything that we’re known to do, we kind of abandoned our principles, offensively, defensively. “
Hearing Smith rattle off a list of people and institutions the Buckeyes embarrassed – the university makes it twice and he falls just short of apologizing to the mascot -- is a little bit of an overkill.
But there’s also something really impressive about accepting such a huge chunk of the blame, not even attempting to make any excuses and acknowledging that these players who are there on scholarship dollars have a responsibility to work to improve their struggling craft.
Their fire to win, to turn things around is obvious. It practically seared through OSU's practice jerseys on Tuesday. The Gophers may need to fight that with a fire of their own, else they get burned.