COLUMBUS (AP) — Aaron Craft was an all-state quarterback in high school and in many ways thinks more like a Saturday-afternoon star than the point guard for No. 13 Ohio State.
Even though he dropped the sport to focus on basketball as a senior — and still loves to watch football and talk about it — there’s one thing about being on the hardcourt instead of the gridiron that really appeals to him.
“Luckily, in basketball we get to play twice in a week,” he said on Wednesday. “You don’t have to wait a whole week like in football.”
There’s no question that No. 13 Ohio State is glad to be returning to action. The Buckeyes have heard enough about the losses last week in overtime at No. 3 Michigan and at home on Sunday to top-ranked Indiana.
After taking a day or two to assess their situation, they’re looking forward to their next outing against injury-hampered Northwestern (13-11, 4-7 Big Ten) on Thursday night at Value City Arena.
“I’m just excited to get back out there,” Craft said.
Hungry for a win, the opponent couldn’t be much better either for the Buckeyes (17-6, 7-4). After all they haven’t lost in Columbus to the Wildcats since Feb. 24, 1977, an 83-72 defeat — a string of 28 consecutive wins at home.
Overall, they’ve won 17 of the last 18 meetings, regardless of the site.
But aside from the opponent, one of the major objectives for coach Thad Matta and his assistants this week has been working on the Buckeyes’ mental health.
Asked if this was a time to try to kick start his team or console it, Matta said, “It’s been a little bit of both.”
This has been an interesting past few days for the Buckeyes. They hadn’t lost back-to-back games in their last 121 outings until last week.
The three-time defending Big Ten champions (and winners of five of the last seven titles), Ohio State found itself tied for fourth place in the conference and two full games back of the lead when they hit the practice court at the Schottenstein Center on Wednesday.
In the wake of that disappointing 81-68 loss to Indiana at home, the message from the coaching staff has been a simple one.
“Just move forward. Just try not to think about it, put that game in the past. There’s nothing you can do about it,” center Amir Williams said. “We’ve got Northwestern (next). That’s the team we have to come prepared for, be ready to play because Northwestern is a dangerous team with their style of offense. We can’t dwell too much on the past. We know we played bad against Indiana; we have to play much better tomorrow night.”
Before the season ever got going, Matta took a look at the rest of the deep and talented Big Ten and told his players that they would need to be able to handle defeats because they would surely come.
“Yeah, we are in a tremendous league and there’s a lot of great teams,” Matta said. “I told the team before the season started, this year’s going to be about getting knocked down, getting back up and fighting again.”
And that’s exactly where the Buckeyes find themselves.
After Northwestern, they will get tested at No. 20 Wisconsin on Sunday. They then return home to meet Minnesota and No. 8 Michigan State. Road games vs. Northwestern and top-ranked Indiana will follow, before closing the regular season at Value City Arena against Illinois.
Craft was asked about the lofty expectations for an Ohio State program that has spent much of the last two years at or near the top of the polls and as a favorite in the NCAA tournament.
“You’re expected to play well and to play hard and be able to compete for a Big Ten championship by the end of the year — and hopefully be playing as well as you can to make a run in the (NCAA) tournament,” he said. “That’s our goal. Our goals are kind of in order as we go through the season, as we start every year.
“And that’s still our goals today.”
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