A hotly-contested game against Minnesota ended in a 10-point loss, 63-53, for Ohio State on Thursday night. Road games in Big Ten Conference play may not seem like a bad losses at first glance, but the defeat makes three straight for the Buckeyes. Thad Matta's team hadn't suffered a three-game losing streak since February of 2009, when OSU lost David Lighty for most of conference play.
Their current streak can't be explained by injury or freak occurrence, but by quality of opponent and stretches where the Buckeyes just flat-out couldn't score. Ohio State went four-and-a-half minutes down the stretch against Minnesota without hitting a field goal, allowing the Gophers to pull away in the closing minutes.
The Buckeyes suffered a similar stretch in the thriller with Michigan State, which saw the Spartans go up by 17 in the second half after Ohio State's shooters went cold. Michigan State couldn't finish off OSU in regulation behind a sluggish stretch of their own, but righted the ship in the extra period to start the streak for Ohio State. A more consistent game from LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft could have notched a win over a nationally-ranked team in their conference.
The second of their three losses -- a home game against Iowa on Sunday -- saw the defense completely collapse. The Hawkeyes scored 47 points in the latter period against what is usually a stout Buckeye defense. Ken Pomeroy has Ohio State as his No. 1 defense in the country, but Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White were able to convert easy looks late in the game.
The defensive lapse against Iowa should be nothing more than a hiccup, as Craft and Shannon Scott have earned their reputations as solid perimeter defenders, and Amir Williams has developed into one of the better rim protectors in the country.
However, Matta is still searching for a second scoring option. Ross dropped 22 points in both the Iowa and Minnesota games, but no other Buckeye has stepped up to shoulder any of the scoring load. Craft can make big plays on both sides of the ball late in games, but has not managed to average double-digit points this season. Lenzelle Smith Jr. hasn't expanded on his game this season, shooting just 36 percent from behind the arc.
Until Ohio State can establish a second (and third) scorer to pair with that stodgy defense, the Buckeyes could be in danger of not competing for the Big Ten title with Wisconsin and Michigan State.