RUSTY MILLER,AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Thad Matta is happy with his team. He is just not happy with how it is playing right now.
“Coming off of Saturday’s game, their awareness better be heightened,” he said of his players.
The Buckeyes are 11-0 against unranked teams but now stand 0-3 against Associated Press Top 25 teams after sustaining a 74-55 beating at No. 12 Illinois on Saturday.
The inability to beat elite teams has dropped the Buckeyes from No. 4 in the preseason to No. 15 in the latest media balloting.
But they say they can fix things and turn it around before Tuesday night’s game at Purdue.
“We’ve just got to take a better approach to it,” backup point guard Shannon Scott said. “Before the (Illinois) game, our minds weren’t really there. We were all like, laughing around, not focused. If we come to Purdue more focused, we’ll be fine.”
The common denominator in all three losses was poor shooting by the Buckeyes. They shot under 34 percent in each defeat.
Compounding their misery in the loss to the Illini, they also were unfocused on defense and played sloppy with the ball. But Matta said that defeat was different.
“I have to be honest, I have to throw Saturday out,” he said. “We did things that were so uncharacteristic. As I told them, ‘Look, I’m not sure who was in your jerseys in this game.'”
Some Ohio State fans — a small segment, mind you — have been exceedingly critical of the team’s play so far. Naysayers to the end, they don’t think the shooting will come around. They don’t believe any of the big men — Amir Williams, Evan Ravenel or Trey McDonald — will be able to hold their own. They look at the lack of offense from point guards Aaron Craft and Scott and worry about the lack of production.
In the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, they’re afraid that other teams will prey on the Buckeyes’ weakness.
Deshaun Thomas, the leading scorer in the conference, remains confident that things will turn around.
“I just stay positive. We were in this situation last year, when we lost at Illinois,” he said of the team that went on to a 31-8 record, a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to the Final Four. “I don’t think this team is falling apart. There’s some things we need to work on. We’re going to get there. We know now what it’s going to take and what we have to do to play hard and win ballgames.”
The Buckeyes (11-3, 1-1 Big Ten) had 16 turnovers against Illinois, many of them unforced. Even though they average only around 10 a game, they opened against Illinois with two turnovers and had 11 by halftime.
Matta is toying with the idea of making lineup changes. With his team trailing by 20 or so most of the second half in Champaign, Ill., he tinkered with different combinations. At one point, he didn’t play a true center, instead going with Thomas underneath the basket, with thin shooting guard LaQuinton Ross at power forward and Scott at the point.
Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t continue to mix and match players.
“The motivation is I want to attempt to get off to a good start” at Purdue, Matta said. “Finding those five guys who have a flow to them is what I’m still looking at.”
The Boilermakers (7-7, 1-1) shocked Illinois in their Big Ten opener before losing at Michigan State.
Ohio State is in dire need of some good news before it hosts No. 2 Michigan on Sunday.
“We know we can’t play like we did last week,” Scott said. “We know the way the rest of the Big Ten is going to play. We have to have a better approach. I think we’re going to play a lot better.”
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)