As Al Pacino said in Any Given Sunday, football is a game of inches.
According to Thad Matta, so is basketball.
In the last month alone, dozens of scenarios, ‘what ifs?’ and ‘what could have beens’ have danced through the Ohio State head coach’s mind. What if Shannon Scott’s layup went down at the end of regulation against Michigan State? Where would the Buckeyes be if D.J. Newbill didn’t connect on his game-winning -- or game-tying shot against OSU on Jan. 29? How bad would things be if Sam Dekker’s attempt at a game-winner was successful on Saturday?
These moments may have come down a matter of mere inches for Matta, but regardless of which way the ball has bounced, these are the things that have shaped the Buckeyes’ 2013-14 campaign. On Saturday at Wisconsin, the inches finally fell in Ohio State’s favor, which has a funny way of shifting how an entire team can look at the remainder of its season.
“I’m glad the shot didn’t go in,” Matta said of Dekker’s ill-fated 3-point attempt that would have given the Badgers a win over the Buckeyes. “What we’re doing now in the Big Ten season, every game is like that. It’s just a brutal challenge. You think about the games that have come down to the wire like that, it’s good to see one go your way.”
Heading to Iowa City for a matchup with No. 17 Iowa, (17-5, 6-3), the now unranked Buckeyes (17-5, 4-5) will be facing a team that’s already defeated them by more than a few inches less than a month ago.
It was on Jan. 12 that the Hawkeyes came to Columbus and beat Ohio State 84-74, handing the Buckeyes their second defeat in as many games, extending a stretch that would result in a four-game losing streak for OSU. The Buckeyes would ultimately lose five games in the span of six before beating the Badgers, but Tuesday’s night’s contest should prove to be a more accurate measurement of just how far Ohio State has come since its January skid.
“After the game, we made a lot of changes,” Matta said, referring to the Buckeyes first battle with the Hawkeyes, which saw Ohio State struggle against Iowa’s lengthy zone defense. “Hopefully we’ll be a better zone offense team tomorrow night.”
Their grudge match with Iowa will also give the Buckeyes their first opportunity to get one back over one of the teams that made for such a frosty January in Columbus. But will revenge really be a motivating factor Ohio State in Iowa? Matta hopes so.
“That’s one of the things about conference play that is so challenging is win or lose, there’s gotta be that element,” Matta said. “I don’t think guys will be thinking like, ‘Hey, these guys beat us last time.’ It’s more, ‘What do we have to do to win the basketball game?”
If the last month has been any indication, the answer to that question will likely come down to a matter of mere inches. And while that may seem like an arbitrary -- random even -- way to view just how good a team really is, there’s no denying that in the end, those inches are what matter most.
“Louder bus ride, louder plane ride,” Matta answered, when asked what the difference is when the inches fall in your team’s favor. “In a lot of ways, that’s why you do it. It’s the gratification of sitting there and hearing those guys happy. And then our job is to say, ‘Why are we happy? And how does that apply to the next game?’”
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