Month: September 2019

September 30, 2019

The Thunders Slow Starters Couldnt Keep Up With the Clippers

In Monday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks made his first substitutions eight minutes into the game. Nick Collison and Caron Butler came in for Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka with the Thunder down four points.This wasn’t the first time the Thunder’s starting lineup had been outscored in its first stint of a game — it was the 48th this season (including the playoffs). The first few minutes of a game are a relatively small sample, of course, but it’s a telling trend: The Thunder’s starters have put them behind in 53.3 percent of the team’s games. And yet the Thunder have won 70 percent of all games so far.Monday night, though, they didn’t. Everything tightens in the playoffs; small weaknesses become magnified and exploited. The narrowest of margins in the beginning can become the deciding factor between victory and defeat. For the Thunder, figuring out how to start building a lead right from the opening tip could be the difference in extending a playoff run.All season, the Thunder have struggled with their starters. In part because of injuries, the Thunder used nine different starting lineups by the time the playoffs rolled around. Those nine different starting lineups had a raw plus/minus of -10 in the 589 minutes they played before the first substitute came in, which is an average point differential of -0.8 per 48 minutes. That number doesn’t seem overwhelmingly negative until we compare it to the Thunder’s season-long differential of +6.3 per 48 minutes using all lineups.In other words, the Thunder’s ability to recover from slow starts is a reflection of their immense talent. Their starting lineups play an average of just over six minutes a game, and in that time the -0.8 per 48-minute point differential works out to just hundredths of a point per game. Their win percentage is almost identical regardless of whether their starters build a lead or dig a hole, 74 percent to 67 percent.But there is an enormous difference in the Thunder’s margin of victory between those two scenarios. In games where the starters build a lead to begin the game, the Thunder have won by an average of 10.86 points. In games where the starters have left the team behind, the Thunder have won, but by an average of just 1.77 points. The Thunder are good enough to eventually overwhelm almost any opponent, but the lead, or lack thereof, that they create for themselves at the beginning of a game carries enormous weight in determining the final margin of victory. It’s something to keep in mind as the Thunder’s starters take the court on Wednesday for Game 2.A methodological note for those interested: The lineup data for this post came from the gameflow charts at popcornmachine.net. I took the game results, final-point margins and number of starting lineups from Basketball-Reference. The per-48-minute differential for all lineups came from NBA.com. I’m kind of a stats polygamist when it comes to sources. read more

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Tiger Woods Eager For Win In Years Last Major

For all the talk about Tiger Woods being “back,” he still has not won a major championship. He finished The Masters tied for 40th. He held a portion of the lead after two round of the U.S. Open in June, but moved in the opposite direction and finished tied for 21st. At the British Open last month, he was right there, but finished tied for third, his best finish in a major in three years.The last opportunity for Woods this year begins Thursday at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. And despite his steady play and three victories, to end the season without a major would signify more that he has work to do than he’s on the right track.Woods acknowledges as much.“I’m pleased at the way I was able to play at certain parts of it and at certain times, and obviously disappointed that I did not win,” Woods said after an abbreviated practice round that was shortened because of inclement weather. “I’ve played in three major championships this year and I didn’t win any of them.“So that’s the goal. I was there at the U.S. Open after two days and I was right there with a chance at the British Open. Things have progressed, but still, not winning a major championship doesn’t feel very good.”His last major win came at the 2008 U.S. Open.The trio of wins this year means something to Woods. So does leading the PGA Tour money list and the FedEx Cup points race. But he made it clear winning majors is the goal, and he’s been stuck on 14 – four behind all-time leader Jack Nicklaus – since he took the U.S. Open in 2008.“Winning golf tournaments makes it successful,” is how he put it, “but winning majors makes it a great year.”Eight previous years in his career Woods has come to the PGA Championship having not won a major, and he prevailed in 1999 and 2007. He also won the tournament in 2000 and 2006.At 36, Woods said he is no panicked that time is not on his side.“I figure . . . it’s going to take a long time,” he said about catching Nicklaus. “Jack didn’t finish his until he was 46, so if you go by that timetable, I’ve got 10 more years. Forty majors (potential chances) is a lot. I’ve got plenty of time.” read more

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Tony Parker Apologizes For Making Perceived AntiSemitic Gesture

This gesture caused Tony Parker lots of backlash. Photo by forward.com.San Antonio Spurs star guard Tony Parker issued a long statement apologizing for making a perceived anti-Semitic gesture in old published photographs with French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.On Sunday, the photos were published by media outlets in France.A similar photo has also been published of Spur teammate and Frenchman, Boris Diaw, with the comedian/activist.In the pictures, Parker and Diaw are seen doing what is known as the “quenelle,” which has become a symbol of anti-Semitism in that country. Parker said, in part, in his statement: “While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it. When l was photographed making that gesture three years ago, I thought it was part of a comedy act and did not know that it could be in any way offensive or harmful.”“Since I have been made aware of the seriousness of this gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions. Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt.”The league office confirmed Monday night that it is reviewing the matter.The controversy involving Parker and Diaw comes after French soccer player Nicolas Anelka displayed the quenelle following a goal he scored Saturday for his English Premier League team, West Bromwich Albion, in a match against West Ham United. Anelka, who has a history of being involved in various controversies, later said the gesture was meant as a salute to his friend, the comedian known just as Dieudonne.The quenelle, which is performed by holding one arm straight by one’s side while touching that arm’s shoulder with the opposite hand, has been called a reverse Nazi salute. It has been popularized by Dieudonne, who is a well-known actor, comedian and political figure in France.Dieudonne has said the gesture is a symbol of defiance. In France, anti-Semitic symbols and speech are banned, and Dieudonne has been convicted of such speech in the past. In the wake of Anelka’s actions, France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, has said he will seek to ban Dieudonne from performing in public over safety concerns. read more

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Saints Ben Watson Has Amazingly Strong Message About Ferguson

Athletes, especially Black athletes, often are lumped in one dishonorable group: dumb jocks. Most are not. And many are quite smart, like the New Orleans Saints’ Benjamin Watson.The tight end wrote eloquently about the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to put officer Darren Wilson on trial for killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the subsequent protests in the town outside of St. Louis and his hope for the future.“At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:“I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.“I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safe movie sets and music studios.“I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.“I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.“I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.“I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.“I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.“I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policemen abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.“I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.“I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.“I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.“I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.” read more

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September 29, 2019

Dallas Keuchel Needs A Job Heres Who Should Hire Him

We’re approaching mid-May — essentially a quarter of the way into the 2019 MLB season — and free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel, the seventh-best lefty in baseball over the past five full seasons according to wins above replacement,1Averaging together the versions from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. is still without a team.“If you would’ve asked me on the first day of free agency, I would have said no way I’d be here on May 6,” Keuchel told Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports this week. “This was not the plan at all. I would love to be out there playing ball and helping a team win. Because, to my career at this point, I’ve done more winning than I have losing and at a much higher clip. So what team wouldn’t want me to be out there?”So what’s keeping Keuchel on the sidelines? He is reportedly holding out for what he calls his “fair market value,” even turning down offers recommended to him by his agent, Scott Boras. And Keuchel’s current offers may be affected by the fact that any team signing him would have to send a compensatory draft pick to his former club, the Houston Astros. (This obstacle will be lifted after next month’s draft.)But pushing in the opposite direction is the fact that there are indeed teams that should want Keuchel and are hurting themselves by waiting to pull the trigger. Although we think of the most important games in a pennant chase happening down the season’s final stretch, these games in May count just the same in the standings — and even now, there are already teams running into crises in the back ends of their rotations.To see which teams could use Keuchel’s services the most, we took our pitcher ratings and compared each rotation’s current strength2Averaging the ratings for a team’s five highest-rated pitchers, among those who started at least three games this season and at least one game in the past 10 days. to what it would be with Keuchel replacing the team’s fifth-ranked starter. Although the teams Keuchel would help most are generally bad teams, the ideal mix would be a team with a good Elo rating but a thin rotation in need of a solid starter. Looking at the current state of things, the best fits are the St. Louis Cardinals (where Keuchel’s rating is a vast improvement over that of current No. 5-ranked starter Dakota Hudson), the Cleveland Indians (Jefry Rodriguez), the Boston Red Sox (Hector Velazquez) and perhaps the Oakland A’s (Aaron Brooks).Of course, the Indians — who are currently missing Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber (both of whom rate higher than Keuchel) — are proof that just because a team’s rotation is wracked with injuries now doesn’t mean it won’t eventually get stronger. When Cleveland is at full strength, it will have little need for Keuchel because he would actually rate worse than the Tribe’s fifth-ranked starter, Shane Bieber. Ditto the Red Sox, who will get David Price and Nathan Eovaldi back sooner or later, mitigating Keuchel’s impact as a rotation upgrade.But St. Louis remains the team that could use Keuchel most, even if we look at who they might add internally during the season. (The injured Carlos Martinez, who carries a pitcher rating of 51.8 — exactly the same as Keuchel’s — will return soon, but only in a relief capacity.) The Cardinals’ need for Keuchel makes sense considering how little they have gotten out of the back of their rotation so far this season. (Hudson, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha have all posted earned run averages at least 9 percent worse than the National League average.) With at least some luxury-tax breathing room and an extremely competitive NL Central race in front of them, the Cardinals might be the team with the most to gain by adding an experienced, solid starter like Keuchel.At age 31 this season, Keuchel is probably not the pitcher he was just a few years ago. Indeed, his Elo pitcher rating dropped from a very strong 59.2 in the middle of the 2017 season to a more middling 51.8 — only 55th-best in baseball — by the end of last season. Keuchel himself knows where he’s at — but he also knows he can still help a team in 2019.“Am I the best at this point in time? No,” he told Yahoo. “But am I more than or better than some of the offers I’ve been given? Absolutely.”Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

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September 28, 2019

Adam Silver Is Not A Fan Of The Sixers Strategy

Several months ago, Hot Takedown crowdsourced ideas from listeners about how to change the draft to stop teams from tanking. After we sent him the winning idea, Silver wrote that there is a “growing consensus that we should reform the draft lottery.” But on this week’s Hot Takedown he said that after team owners voted down a proposal for change last year, the league has decided to “park the issue” for the foreseeable future.Silver argued that the marketplace is providing the biggest pressure on teams like Philadelphia, which he said are realizing that “losing comes at an enormous cost.” Silver sees a “resetting of sorts” with the team. And he denied that he intervened and asked the Sixers to install Jerry Colangelo as special advisor.Watch a video excerpt and stream the full audio of the interview above. We’ve also provided a lightly edited transcription of the highlights below. This interview was conducted Friday, Dec. 18.Silver not a fan of Sixers strategyNeil Paine: Are you personally, as the commissioner, OK with the way that the 76ers have run their franchise the past three seasons?Adam Silver: I don’t want to answer that directly. As I said, there’s a marketplace of ideas and approaches that go into managing a franchise.Am I fan of that strategy? Put it this way: No. But does that mean that it’s not acceptable under the league rules? It doesn’t. Hot Takedown More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. The Sixers are a mess, and Adam Silver is not happy. The NBA commissioner joined our sports podcast, Hot Takedown, for a conversation about the structure of the draft, the perverse incentives that it creates and how his office can try to “cajole” teams like the Philadelphia 76ers into being more competitive. But he admitted that ultimately, he may not be able to reset the competitive balance of the league by tweaking the draft rules. The Sixers are “resetting”Adam Silver: There’s a resetting of sorts going on with the 76ers right now. And I think that ultimately may speak louder in the marketplace of teams than any tinkering we do to the draft lottery.Is it time to step in and stop tanking?Chadwick Matlin: I’m interested about when you do step in as a commissioner. You’re basically the CEO of a big multibillion-dollar corporation. At what point is it your responsibility to intervene if one of your franchises is not performing in a way that represents the league?Adam Silver: Well, I would say that there’s lots of different ways of so-called “stepping in.” There’s also cajoling and ongoing conversations that I have with owners, with team presidents, with general managers, where I’m expressing my opinion. Truth to rumors that he intervened with Sixers?Chadwick Matlin: Anonymous reports suggested that [you stepped in and pushed for the hiring of Jerry Colangelo] due to owners who wanted the situation in Philadelphia changed. Are those reports correct?Adam Silver: Those reports are not correct. Josh Harris, who’s the principal owner of the 76ers, decided on his own that he needed to change course. He and I had many conversations along the way about the utility of the strategy that he was following. And he came to the conclusion once this season began, and he saw how his team was performing on the floor, that he needed to change his strategy.Other owners were not pressuring him at all. In fact, it’s a weird dynamic in the league that while all the owners would like to see teams well operated, other owners just want to win (laughter). And so nobody was calling me and saying go call the 76ers and tell them how to beat us. read more

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Buckeye victory notches Big Ten first Challenge title

The Big Ten relinquished a 3-0 lead in the Challenge early Tuesday night, and eventually needed OSU’s victory to finalize the Big Ten’s first win in 11 tries. Turner said it has been frustrating to constantly hear about ACC’s dominance over the Big Ten and the rest of the country. In the second half it was all OSU. The Buckeyes forced FSU to play fast with their smaller lineup and pushed a lead to more than 20. Florida State fought back within two, but that was the closest the Seminoles would come all night. OSU opened its lead back up to 11 at halftime with key shots and strong defense. “That’s a championship right there. It’s huge,” Turner said jokingly about the win. “You can’t say this is the biggest night of our lives, [though]. We’ve had some pretty big nights.” The game played out the same way the Big Ten/ACC Challenge had early on. Like the rest of the Big Ten, OSU garnered an early lead, but just as its conference had done, the Bucks left the door open.   But when in doubt, the Buckeyes and their conference pulled it out. Junior Jon Diebler used guard Evan Turner’s penetration to set up big shots for three. He knocked down six of 12, scoring 22 on the night. Turner again set the pace for OSU, immediately penetrating and scoring within seconds of the tip-off. Effective penetration to the basket is something Turner excels at even though he was unable to utilize in OSU’s only loss of the season, to North Carolina. “Our penetration and our shooters were really amazing tonight and we really complement each other well,” Turner said. “That was key for us.” His 25 points on 10-17 shooting led the Buckeyes. He also added 13 rebounds and five assists. The Ohio State men’s basketball team triumphed over Florida State, 77-64, Wednesday in the final game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.The Buckeyes put the final nail in the ACC’s coffin, giving the Big Ten the deciding win and its first ever victory in the Challenge’s 11-year history. Turner joked earlier in the week that if the Challenge was tied at five games apiece, a victory would call for confetti and cutting down the nets. No nets were removed after Big Ten’s first ever win over the ACC, but a ton of pressure finally was. read more

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Ohio State track and field prepares for Big Ten Championships

The Ohio State men’s and women’s track and field teams participated in the Buckeye Tune-up Friday at OSU’s French Field House, their final meet prior to the Big Ten Indoor Championship meet.OSU athletes won seven of the 17 individual events contested for each gender. The men’s and women’s teams each had a two-event winner. Redshirt senior distance runner Adam Green took first place in the men’s mile run with a time of 4:11.25, and followed that with a winning time of 8:28.33 in the 3,000-meter run. On the women’s side, senior sprinter Christina Manning finished first in the 60-meter dash in 7.28 seconds, then won the 60-meter hurdles in 8.11 seconds.In addition to the event winners, two OSU athletes met automatic qualifying standards for the NCAA Division I Championship in the weight throw. Redshirt senior Matt DeChant met the mark with a throw of 70 feet, 9 1/4 inches, while fellow senior Max Mays also qualified with a throw of 70 feet, 7 inches. Ashland University’s senior Ryan Loughney won the men’s weight throw with a throw of 71 feet, 4 inches.While the Buckeye Tune-up served as a venue for some of the OSU athletes to perform, others rested this week in preparation for the Big Ten Indoor Championships.“Some people needed rest and some people need work,” said Karen Dennis, coach of the women’s team. “(Some athletes were) really getting geared up emotionally for Big Tens next weekend.”Although he won two events, Green said the meet “was more of a training day.”Heading into the conference championship meet, there is certainly pressure on the women’s track and field team, as they are the defending champions of the Big Ten Indoor Championship. Two women’s athletes also have individual conference titles to defend ­­—­­­ Manning was last year’s Big Ten champion in the 60-meter hurdles, while senior sprinter Madison McNary took first place in the 60-meter dash.“As defending champions, we want to go defend our title, but we are also realistic in knowing that we have to expect people to want to bump us off,” Dennis said. “Sprinters and hurdlers all have to make it back to the finals.”The men’s track and field team finished fifth at last year’s Big Ten Indoor Championships, but their sights are set on greater accomplishments in 2012.Redshirt junior Heath Nickles, who cleared a height of 16 feet, 11 1/2 inches and won the Buckeye Tune-up pole vault, said the team is in it to win it.“We won’t accept anything else,” he said.Nickles said his individual goals for this weekend are to win the heptathlon and pole vault, stressing the importance of scoring 10 points for the team in each event.Coach Robert Gary said Nebraska is the team to beat in the Big Ten. He said he believes in his team’s chances to win, because the team “doesn’t bring anybody to the Big Ten meet just to get the experience of getting their butts kicked.”Senior sprinter Thomas Murdaugh and redshirt junior distance runner Cory Leslie did not compete in Friday’s meet, but will be crucial to the team’s success this weekend. Murdaugh will be attempting to defend his conference title from last year in the 400-meter dash. Leslie finished fourth in the mile run at last year’s meet, but he has been running faster times this season, including a mile time of 3:56.85 at the Penn State National Invitational which not only set a school record, but also met the mark to automatically qualify for the NCAA Division I Championship meet.The quest to bring the Big Ten Indoor Championships title back to OSU begins Feb. 24, in Lincoln, Neb. The meet concludes Saturday. read more

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Ohio State baseball hoping to get back on track in Big Ten

After dropping two of three games to Michigan State last weekend, the Ohio State baseball team (18-8, 4-2 Big Ten) is hoping to get back on track for its third Big Ten weekend series as it travels to face Minnesota. OSU coach Greg Beals is hoping his team can bounce back from last weekend’s series. “We had an opportunity to take the Michigan State series and it’s disappointing we blew it,” Beals said. “Good thing is, we have games this week to get back to winning.” OSU has been trying to work on its winning mindset for a few weeks. “It’s just the mentality of all eight innings, man,” said senior shortstop Kirby Pellant. “The pitching has been there all year and the defense has been there all year and finally the bats are starting to come around.” The Buckeyes beat Youngstown State Tuesday night in Columbus in a 3-0 shutout and took down Miami (Ohio) in a 1-0 shutout Wednesday night. Beals said this week’s games were important for the Buckeyes in preparing for more conference play. “The week games get our guys a lot of at-bats,” Beals said. “They help position players get in the groove and they allow our pitchers to get extended innings.” The Minnesota Golden Gophers are 17-12 and 2-1 in Big Ten play on the year. Minnesota redshirt junior infielder Dan Olinger is a guy to keep an eye on for the Golden Gophers, batting .314 with 14 RBIs and a .984 fielding percentage. Junior pitcher Tom Windle has 1.44 ERA with 45 strikeouts and a 4-2 record in 50 innings pitched. Windle has been named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week twice this season. Minnesota will be opening the brand new Siebert Field for this series, having played its previous home games at the Metrodome. An OSU series win brings the team that much closer to capturing the conference title. While it’s still early in the season for talk of the Big Ten Championship, it has been on some of the players’ minds for weeks. “When I was a true freshman, that was the last time we won the Big Ten Championship, so I know what that feels like,” said OSU redshirt senior outfielder Joe Ciamacco. “I’m putting everything out there for the team this year. I want us to win this season. I want to bring back the winning tradition to Ohio State. We haven’t had it here in a while.” OSU is set to take the field against the Golden Gophers at 4:05 p.m. Friday at Siebert Field in Minneapolis. read more

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Ohio State seeks to avenge loss to Nittany Lions

Thad Matta stands on the sidelines during a game against Minnesota. OSU won, 64-46.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorAn early season menace is set to rear its head again for the Ohio State Buckeyes.Just less than a month ago, Penn State — led by redshirt-junior guard D.J. Newbill and his 25 points — came to Columbus and ripped OSU’s heart out, defeating the Buckeyes, 71-70, in overtime.In the 10 seasons that coach Thad Matta has been at the helm of the men’s basketball program, it was the first time the Buckeyes lost to the Nittany Lions, and it came six days after they beat Illinois to snap a four-game skid.“Top 25 teams at home don’t lose these games,” senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the loss Jan. 29. “And we lost.”Since the rock-bottom feeling of losing their fifth game out of seven during January, the Buckeyes have been on a tear this month, notching six wins and only losing once.“I think we’re a different team. We learned from that loss, we know that we didn’t come out with the intensity and the toughness we needed to win,” junior forward Sam Thompson said Wednesday. “We allowed them to push us around a little bit on our home floor. We allowed them to go into a rhythm on both ends of the floor and really dictate the way that game was played.”Following the loss to the Nittany Lions, Thompson was inserted into the starting lineup, a move that has proved to be beneficial, as he has averaged 8.1 points per game to up his season average to 7.5.It appears as if the Buckeyes are playing with an added motivation lately as well, as they continue to make a push for one of the top four seeds in the Big Ten Tournament and the first-round bye that comes with it. A strong finish to the season will aid OSU’s case for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament as well.“The rest of the season is definitely desperation for us, especially wanting to get a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the way the Big Ten’s going, a lot of teams have been losing — that’s a great thing for us so we can move up,” junior forward LaQuinton Ross said Wednesday. “I think the rest of the season, everybody in the locker room knows what’s at stake.”That starts Thursday in State College, Pa., as No. 22 OSU looks to stay hot as it is set to take on Penn State (13-14, 4-10, tied for last in the Big Ten) at 7 p.m.“It’s amazing when you go back and look at where we were at (against Penn State) and kind of the level that we’ve been playing at. We put ourselves in a really good position, but just could not make the plays,” Matta said Tuesday. “I think we’re showing signs of getting a lot better.”Newbill carried the Nittany Lions down the stretch in round one against the Buckeyes (22-6, 9-6, fourth in the Big Ten), scoring their last six points in regulation and then four in overtime. Matta said in order to prevent that from happening this time around, it has to be a team effort.“He can get you in so many different ways. So I think from the standpoint, it does take everyone on the floor doing their part,” Matta said. “If one guy rotates, then we gotta help the helper. It’s definitely a team effort to guard a guy like that.”Thompson said although he made some big plays last month in Columbus, Newbill’s late game heroics were also a product of mental errors by OSU.“Not taking anything away from him, he hit some big shots, but the shot at the end of regulation, that’s a messed up switch on our part on a guard-to-guard dribble hand off,” Thompson said. “We usually switch those, we didn’t switch that and Newbill got a wide-open look.”Matta said those mental errors have since been corrected.“I think that there’s more accountability, in terms of the respect they have to have to do the job,” Matta said. “In that game … there was a lot of things that happened that maybe we could have controlled better that we didn’t do, so yeah, you look back at those and say, ‘This can’t happen again.’”OSU used a giant second half Saturday to take down Minnesota, 64-46, and Thompson helped the team to get trending in the right direction.“I like where we are as a team right now. I think that we’re peaking at the right time. Offensively we have a certain swagger about us, defensively we’re really turning it up, so we’re playing some of the best defensive basketball that we’ve played,” Thompson said. “Individually, you have guys getting into rhythms, really contributing for this team. So I like where we are right now. Like we’ve always said, we have a veteran basketball team, so everyone has been here before and we’re looking to make a run.” read more

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