Ohio State notebook: Buckeyes face tough stretch

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Life on the road certainly will not be easy for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.

Saturday’s 75-68 loss at Purdue only scratched the surface. Tonight, the Buckeyes must face No. 11 Michigan State in East Lansing. An arguably tougher test comes Saturday when Ohio State visits No. 6 Tennessee.

“This is a unique stretch for us,” Buckeyes Head Coach Thad Matta said. “We had something kind of similar earlier in the year when we played five games in 11 days. But some of those were at home.”

With Ohio State and Michigan State coming off losses, tonight’s game takes on added importance. The loser could find itself two games off the Big Ten lead by midweek.

The Buckeyes probably won’t receive a warm reception when they visit Knoxville this weekend. Ohio State coming from 20 down to beat Tennessee in last year’s NCAA tournament may still sting some Volunteers fans.

“We have a great challenge this week,” Matta said. “It will be another gauge for our team and what direction we’re heading.”

The big thing Matta will look for this week is steady improvement from his team.

There was not much positive carryover from last Wednesday’s 79-48 win over Iowa to the Purdue game. A 10-0 Boilermakers run to start the second half erased a 36-29 halftime deficit. The Buckeyes went on to shoot just 28 percent from the field in the second half and turned the ball over 20 times overall against Purdue’s pressure defense.

“One of the best pressure teams in the country is North Carolina and for whatever reason, that game we had 10 turnovers,” Matta said. “But I thought we were able to put the ball in the basket.

“Purdue did do a good job, but we probably didn’t fight it as much as we needed to. We couldn’t execute what we were trying to get accomplished every time down the floor.”

Butler eyes milestones

Buckeyes senior guard Jamar Butler enters tonight with a couple of milestones in sight.

Butler is just 5 points away from becoming the 43rd Ohio State men’s basketball player to score 1,000 career points. He has also tied a school record for consecutive free throws made with 25 in a row.

Butler’s free throw streak began against Coppin State on Dec. 10 when he made his second attempt. He did not go to the line in three of the nine games, but impressively kept the streak alive by going 9-for-9 against Maryland-Baltimore County on Dec. 29 and 8-for-8 against Illinois on Jan. 3.

Sean Connolly shares Butler’s consecutive free throws made record. Connolly made 25 straight during the 2000-01 season.

Brent Darby was the last Buckeyes guard to score 1,000 career points. He did it from 2000-03.

Streaks stopped

Saturday’s loss ended Ohio State’s 19-game Big Ten winning streak, the second longest in school history behind the 1960-61 and 1961-62 teams which combined to 27 straight league games. The latest streak included three wins in last year’s Big Ten tournament.

The Buckeyes’ eight-game road win streak in league play also was snapped.

What happened?

Michigan State’s 43-36 loss at Iowa on Saturday was a stunner. The Spartans came in second in the Big Ten in scoring offense, averaging almost 78 points a game. But they scored just 18 over the final 28:52.

“I was not disappointed with the effort,” Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “If you look at us defensively — we held them to 27 percent, outrebounded them and did the things you have to do defensively.

“But the unforced turnovers, the missed shots and the bad luck ... there were some close plays that didn’t go our way. You do that on the road and you lose.”

Reach Repository sports writer Mike Popovich at (330) 580-8341 or e-mail: