“I’m hoping for Marc to have a great sophomore year. I think he’s primed to make the jump.”
That’s what Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta had to say about sophomore forward Marc Loving during an Oct. 9 interview with The Lantern. Now almost three months later, Loving might finally be getting off the ground.
Year two in Columbus got off to a quick start for the forward when he scored 14 points in the Buckeyes’ season opener. He scored in double digits the next three games as well, capped by 18 points in a win against Campbell in late November.
From there, Loving went on an inconsistent run with eight, 13, 17, two and six points, respectively, in the next five games. Then seven more games in double figures, and another inconsistent run, which included a 3-for-11 shooting performance against Indiana on Jan. 10.
After that loss to Indiana, Loving shot less than 50 percent from the field in OSU’s next game, then found himself out of the starting lineup against Northwestern on Jan. 22.
Matta said after OSU’s win against Maryland on Thursday that Loving’s move out of the lineup was more a credit to the development of players like freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate, but noted that Loving had struggled on the defensive side of the floor as well.
“Bench is kind of a odd term, because he still played a lot of minutes,” Matta said after Loving played 31 minutes against the Terrapins. “We felt like going into the Northwestern game, we wanted to make a little bit of a change, and I was kind of rewarding Jae’Sean just in terms of how he had played.”
But regardless of Tate’s rise or Loving’s defensive struggles, Loving’s offensive numbers told a story of their own. The loss to Indiana saw Loving miss all five 3-point attempts, and his 1-of-4 finish from the free-throw line led Matta to a minor injury.
“I was telling him, I hurt my elbow Sunday when he made his first free throw because I pumped my arm so hard when it went in, and he was laughing about it,” Matta said after the Maryland game. “But I’m like, ‘My God, you were 3-for-11.’”
The move to the bench was a significant change for Loving at first, as he played just 19 minutes against the Wildcats. Up to that point, he’d only played less than 21 minutes two times, both in blowout wins for the Buckeyes.
But OSU still beat Northwestern, and Loving finished 2-of-3 from beyond the 3-point arc. Then he came off the bench again against Indiana, but this time around, he played 32 minutes and scored 12 points, helping the Buckeyes to an 82-70 win against the then-No. 23 Hoosiers.
And then, despite coming off the bench once again, Loving left his fingerprints all over OSU’s 80-56 thrashing of then-No. 16 Maryland.
Loving finished the game with 19 points — which tied a career-high — and six rebounds, while he made all five 3-point attempts and 7-of-11 total shot attempts.
Despite coming off the bench, and seeing a temporary decrease in minutes, Loving said his role has been constant for the Buckeyes.
“I was able to knock some shots down,” he said after beating the Terrapins. “At the end of the day, it was about the victory and that’s what we got, and I’m proud of my team.”
Matta said Loving’s performance was necessary for the Buckeyes to win the game.
“We need Marc to play like that, I hope that he knows the confidence,” he said.
Now Loving seems to have found his role on the team — as a sniper on offense who is shooting better than 53 percent on long balls this season.
No matter if he’s on the court or in his chair to start the game, Loving and the Buckeyes are scheduled to return to the court Wednesday against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Tip is set for 6:30 p.m.