Big Ten title out of reach, Buckeyes shift focus (The Associated Press)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — For the first time in five years, the 22nd-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes hit the middle of February with no shot at a Big Ten regular-season title.

But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t a lot left on the table.

”Our tangible cause would be, one, right now to make the NCAA tournament,” junior Sam Thompson said. ”We don’t feel we’ve done enough to really put ourselves in a position where we can say if the season ended today we’re hands down in the tournament. And, we don’t want to play on Thursday in the Big Ten tournament and we want to win (it).

”It’s about sending a message every time we step out on the floor.”

Heading into their game Saturday at Illinois (14-11, 3-9), the Buckeyes (19-6, 6-6) are a distant four games back of co-leaders Michigan State and Michigan with just six games left. So coach Thad Matta is not going to capture his sixth regular-season crown in his 10 years on the job.

Instead, the Buckeyes must now retrain their focus.

They’re coming off a 70-60 home loss to No. 15 Michigan on Tuesday night. In that game, they led by 10 points before going without a field goal for the final 6:23 of the first half. Still ahead by four at the half despite that drought, they built an eight-point lead in the opening minutes after the break and were up by 43-37 with 12 minutes remaining.

”When I went back and watched the tape, I literally started at 43-37, and said, ‘What happened here?”’ Matta said Friday. ”It was a case of when you’re playing a really good basketball team (and) every mistake we made, they capitalized. I said to our team, ‘When we’re playing our best basketball, that’s what we do.”’

A lot of coaches are wondering what happened here.

Continue Reading: Big Ten title out of reach, Buckeyes shift focus (The Associated Press)