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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four days removed from its 71-45 win over Minnesota, the No. 18 Ohio State men's basketball team (19-7, 9-5) will return to action on Sunday, when it hosts No. 4 Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) for a 4 p.m. tipoff at the Schottenstein Center. On Friday, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta and junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. met with the media to help preview their upcoming battle with the Spartans.
Back on track?
Although OSU is coming off of a victory, the Buckeyes are still less than a week removed from the 71-49 beating that they took at the hands of Wisconsin last Sunday. Smith admitted that a bitter taste from that game is still present in his team's mouth, and that he hopes that it uses it as motivation moving forward.
"We got embarrassed at Wisconsin, and I don't know if guys felt like this win kinda relieves us of that or people forget, but I still remember it. I'm pretty sure he still remembers it and he's not gonna let it go," Smith said. "I'm not gonna let it go, and I don't expect anybody else to let it go. Especially not Aaron Craft or Deshaun Thomas, because for us, that was a painful game."
Matta was pleased that the junior guard has adopted that type of mindset, and hopes that the loss to the Badgers can turn into a valuable lesson for his team as it prepares for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
"I'm glad he's saying that because I haven't seen these guys since Wednesday night. We were off yesterday and we're getting ready to go here, so I'm glad he's thinking that way," Matta said. "You're constantly looking for teachable moments, through the good and the bad. We played better, I don't think we played perfect on Wednesday night."
As has been the case with most of its conference schedule, OSU will have its hands full on Sunday with a Michigan State squad that currently sits in second place in the Big Ten standings. Due to the Spartans' consistency from year-to-year, Matta has a great appreciation for the job that Tom Izzo has done in East Lansing, and believes that he is building a similar program in Columbus.
"I have the utmost respect for what they've done. I think the biggest tell-all is just standing the test of time in college basketball. It's a lot easier said than done," Matta said. "What they have built there, just in terms of the environment that they have, I think we're definitely closing in on that."
From Keith Appling to Gary Harris to Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, Smith said that what makes Michigan State such a dangerous team is that it's hard to focus on just one of the Spartans' key players without being hurt by another.
"All around, they have a great team. This is one of the top teams I'm talking about where everybody's worrying about everybody," Smith said. "It's not just stop their guards. You have to stop their guards and their bigs, so hopefully we can stick to our principles, what have normally done in the past which has led us to be successful against teams like this."
Having already lost five games in league play, the Buckeyes could be eliminated from the race for the Big Ten regular season championship this week for the first time in four years. Playing on a relatively young team that lost its leading scorer and rebounder from the past two seasons in Jared Sullinger to the NBA Draft, Smith admitted that OSU has experienced some growing pains since the season started.
"This program is five guys connected, and this year, for some reason, it's been the hardest year for us to find five guys connected," Smith said. "The reason being- I do not know. To this day, I still feel sometimes we're not connected on the floor. You've got guys out there doing their own thing or worried about something other than winning this game."
With five Big Ten championships to his credit since he came to Ohio State nine years ago, Matta admitted that coaching this year's Buckeyes' squad has been one of his tougher jobs, and that he's still trying to find out what works when it comes to motivating this team.
"I've probably been a little bit harder on this team than some teams in the past, but there's moments with all teams," Matta said. "So much of coaching sometimes is you're trying to find the right buttons to push. You're trying to be aware of their legs, you're trying to be aware of their minds, all this stuff, but I think with this team, I've probably stepped outside the box more than I have with most teams in the past."
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