The Ohio State men’s basketball team has won five of its past six games, with the one setback coming in the first game of Marc Loving’s three-game suspension.
Coach Thad Matta confirmed Friday the sophomore forward will make his return to the court against Michigan State on Saturday, with the Buckeyes looking to make it three wins in a row.
Matta said Loving “definitely” makes OSU a better team, but added the Buckeyes have improved overall in the time he missed.
“I like the strides that everybody on this team has made in his (Loving’s) absence,” Matta said.
Loving’s suspension was announced just before the Buckeyes took on Purdue on Feb. 4 in West Lafayette, Ind. That game ended in a 60-58 OSU loss, then Loving missed out on the Buckeyes’ next road trip as well.
But that time around OSU came out on top with a 19-point shellacking of Rutgers on the road Feb. 8 before trouncing Penn State, 75-55, at home on Feb. 11. Matta stressed the improvement over those three games, and said he’s not sure exactly how Loving will slot into the lineup against the Spartans.
“Now where does he come back and fit in?” Matta said. “Hopefully like he did in the Maryland game.”
The Buckeyes took on Maryland the game before Loving’s suspension, and the Toledo native made the most of 31 minutes off the bench, going 5-for-5 from 3-point land and tying his career high with 19 points.
Against Purdue, the Buckeyes didn’t have Loving’s production as the player behind him — freshman forward Keita Bates-Diop — didn’t attempt a shot. But against Rutgers, Bates-Diop scored a career-high 14 points, and added seven more against the Nittany Lions.
Bates-Diop said he took his chance with Loving out of the lineup, but added having him back in the lineup will give OSU a boost.
“I saw it (Loving’s suspension) as an opportunity to step up and play well, and I did,” Bates-Diop said Friday. “Having Marc back, it just makes us a better team, it makes us a deeper team.”
Senior center Amir Williams said Loving’s return will be “huge” for OSU because of his ability to bring multiple new dimensions to the offense.
“(Loving’s) a guy that can stretch the floor,” Williams said Friday. “He can create his own shot by driving to the basket, he can also post up. He just provides different ways of scoring the basketball, so it’s definitely gonna be huge having him back this game.”
With Loving’s added dimension out of the equation, the loss to Purdue marked the first time the Buckeyes were held to less than 60 points since a loss to Louisville back on Dec. 2.
Matta said the Boilermakers’ defensive scheme is similar to what he expects from Michigan State, with the difference being that the Spartans will have to deal with Loving in addition to the scoring prowess of freshman guard D’Angelo Russell.
“They (Michigan State) are a very active gap-oriented type team,” Matta said. “The principles that their defense is based on is very sound, just in terms of keeping guys in front of you, being physical on the cuts, stuff like that.”
In addition to tough defense, Williams said the Buckeyes will be playing in one of the most hostile environments the Big Ten has to offer.
“It ranks definitely in the top in the Big Ten, that student section can get pretty loud,” he said of Michigan State’s Breslin Student Events Center. “When they score the first basket the arena goes crazy, they start popping things and throwing things in the air.
“It’s gonna be tough, we just gotta keep finding ways to continue to play through it.”
While Loving will be back to boost the Buckeyes in East Lansing, Mich., Matta said he’s not sure if redshirt-senior forward Anthony Lee will be able to play after he missed the Penn State game with an injury.
With Loving in the lineup, and Lee’s status in question, the Buckeyes are set to take on the Spartans at noon.