Battered Buckeyes face rest of season short-handed
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 12, 2003
COLUMBUS -- Pretty soon the Ohio State team picture won't require a wide-angle lens.
Center Terence Dials was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season on Tuesday. Point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham won't practice with the team anymore, although he will dress and can play a minute or two here and there. Center Velimir Radinovic is starting to practice again. Swingman Sean Connolly is sore, but trying to keep up in workouts.
Ohio State's team meetings should be held at a triage unit.
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''I don't think any of us are enjoying this at all,'' coach Jim O'Brien said of the pall cast over the team by the staggering series of injuries. ''This is not a lot of fun.''
Dials, a sophomore from Youngstown, has a stress fracture in his back that has caused him to miss most of the season. O'Brien announced earlier Tuesday that Dials won't return and will seek a redshirt season.
''I have to look at the bright side. I'll have three years,'' Dials said. ''But seeing the team struggle is hard. It's sad.''
O'Brien said Dials could have returned and might have helped the team but that would have likely cost him a season of eligibility. Dials, a sophomore, is now at the threshold for getting a medical redshirt that would give him three more seasons. Any more playing time and he would likely lose the entire season.
''You can't be so selfish about this,'' O'Brien said. ''Are we going to have him playing in five games maybe to lose 30 in a full year? Clearly, for Terence's career and his betterment, the redshirt thing is the right thing to do for him. Could he have come back and helped us? Probably. But what's the value in that? I don't think the trade-off is worth that.''
Fuss-Cheatham is still hobbled by a knee injury that will likely require more surgery after the season. He is wearing a heavy brace and won't see any more playing time unless extraordinary circumstances warrant.
He will participate in warmups and shooting drills, but little else.
Radinovic sustained a compound dislocation of the pinky finger on his left hand that became infected and caused him to miss two games last week, including an ugly 76-57 loss at Illinois on Sunday that was over after the Buckeyes lapsed behind 17-1 in the opening minutes.
Connolly is having problems with a sprained left ankle that kept him out of the debacle at Illinois and has limited his practice time this week. It is unknown whether he will be able to play much if at all when the Buckeyes (11-10, 4-6 Big Ten) play at Penn State (5-14, 0-8) on Wednesday night.
Forget winning a championship or making a postseason tournament. The pared-down roster has caused the Buckeyes to reassess their goals.
''For us to feel good about this season, our goal is to at least finish .500 or above .500 in the league,'' forward Zach Williams said. ''That's definitely a goal that we think is realistic and it's something that we have our sights set on.''
Leading scorer and playmaker Brent Darby has been piling up 35 to 40 minutes a game because the Buckeyes are so thin on the perimeter. He believes the NCAA tournament is still an option.
''It's tough at times, but these are the cards we were dealt,'' he said. ''In my first three years here, we didn't have any injuries. Now we've got all kinds of them.''
So Ohio State is caught in limbo between a team that has the capacity for repeating as the Big Ten tournament champion -- and one that is so short-handed that it must struggle to be competitive in its six remaining regular-season games.
''We'll never be as good as we possibly could have,'' O'Brien said. ''But certainly we can be a lot more competitive than we were the other day. When we get into the Big Ten tournament I think there are some games that we can still win.
''It seems like it's gloom and doom but we don't feel that way. We're trying like crazy to win the very next game.''