Hot shooting and tough defense can make a difference, but success for the Ohio State men’s basketball team has mainly come with rebounding.
But that hasn’t always been the Buckeyes’ strong suit, freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate said.
“Earlier on in the season, we really struggled rebounding it,” Tate said after OSU’s win against Maryland on Thursday. “That’s one of the key parts in practice.”
Early-season matchups for the Buckeyes came with success rebounding until Dec. 2. That’s when OSU traveled to Louisville, Ky., with a 5-0 record in tow, having led each of its first five games in the rebounding category.
But against the Cardinals, the Buckeyes suffered their first loss of the season, and were outrebounded for the first time.
The next four games after that brought four wins, and OSU either outrebounded its opponent or tied them each time. Then came Dec. 20, when the Buckeyes traveled to Chicago and lost to North Carolina for their second stumble of the season. In that game, OSU had just 40 rebounds, compared to 53 for the Tar Heels.
Then two more wins on strong rebounding nights, and a loss to Iowa with the Hawkeyes easily outrebounding the Buckeyes.
The first time OSU won a game with less rebounds than its opponent was Jan. 6 against Minnesota, when the Golden Gophers had 35 boards, compared to 34 for the Buckeyes. And that win came in double overtime.
Now at 17-5 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten, every loss for OSU has come with the opponent picking up more rebounds, and only three wins have come with the same criteria.
But against the Terrapins — who were ranked No. 16 at the time — the Buckeyes’ rebounding efforts clicked to the point that they easily won, 80-56.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he hadn’t experienced a game that was so lopsided in the rebound column as a coach.
“They (the Buckeyes) were tougher than we were, and I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team get outrebounded like that,” Turgeon said. “I’ll have a look, I doubt it. My teams usually rebound.”
The Buckeyes picked up 51 rebounds in the game, compared to just 32 for the Terrapins. That onslaught was led by freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, who tied his career high with 14 rebounds.
Russell joked about his prowess on the boards after the game, but explained that putting in work in practice has helped him — and OSU as a whole — become better in loose-ball situations.
“(I’m the) best rebounder on the team, I can’t reword it,” Russell joked. “Nah, I’m just playing, the ball bounces to me a lot. I wouldn’t say I go get ‘em, they bounce to me a lot.
“It’s just something I decided to take upon myself to rebound better as a 6-5 guard, I gotta do something down there.”
After saying he felt OSU “rebounded the ball well,” coach Thad Matta said the matchup with Maryland was the most consistent his team has been all season.
Now going forward, the Buckeyes might have found their key to continued consistency: outrebound the opponent, and win the game — at least that’s worked so far.
Tate said the Buckeyes have to keep working to improve, which includes a “good majority” of practice time spent on rebounding.
“Every week we just gotta go out there and try to play better than we did the last week,” Tate said.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to return to the court against Purdue on Wednesday in West Lafayette, Ind. Tip is set for 6:30 p.m.