In the first 107 games against unranked nonconference teams under coach Thad Matta, the Ohio State men’s basketball team had only lost once.
That mark doubled on Friday evening at the Schottenstein Center against University of Texas-Arlington after the Mavericks (2-1) outplayed the Buckeyes (2-1) to a 73-68 score.
“This definitely was one of the biggest wins, if not the biggest win, in the history of the program,” UT Arlington coach Scott Cross said. “For sure, the biggest for me, individually. Our guys played their hearts out. We did play as good of a basketball game as we possibly could.”
After taking just a two-point lead into the half, Matta’s team was ransacked by the visitors in the second half, as the Buckeyes were outscored by seven over the final 20 minutes.
“We just got outcompeted tonight,” OSU junior forward Marc Loving said. “UT Arlington came in with a chip on their shoulder. Hats off to them. They played a very confident and competitive game, and they gave it their all.”
A pair of sophomores in center Kevin Hervey and guard Erick Neal led the way for the Mavericks, scoring 18 and 17 points, respectively. All but two of Neal’s points came in the second half, as he led the way from the outside with a pair of 3-pointers.
Much of the Buckeyes’ offensive deficiencies Friday night could be chalked up to what they left at the free-throw line, as the Scarlet and Gray missed 14 of their 27 free-throw attempts, while the visitors connected on 19 of 22.
The teams grinded through a sloppy first half, combining to shoot 40.6 percent from the field and register 13 turnovers and 18 fouls.
Though the Mavericks did minimal damage from the outside, the Buckeyes were unable to find an answer in the paint, as UT Arlington burned OSU for 26 of its 32 first-half points around the basket.
“We just didn’t communicate as well as we know that we can,” OSU sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate said about the performance in the interior. “We know we’ve just got to continue to work on that.”
That number could have been much more lopsided for the home team had it not been for the defensive efforts of freshman center Daniel Giddens’ five swats in the first half.
The start of each half featured far from the best basketball the Buckeyes have offered. In the first three and a half minutes of the contest, OSU shot just 1-of-4 with three turnovers, as the Mavericks jumped out to a 7-2 lead.
It was more of the same to begin the second half. OSU found itself down by as much as eight points early in the latter stanza, in large part due to a 7-0 UT Arlington run to begin the half.
“It was just lack of communication,” Tate said about the poor start to the half. “We thought we had came out of the locker room and talked about having intensity, but we just got mixed up.”
The script was flipped in the second half for the visitors, as just two of the Mavericks’ first 12 points in the second half came in the paint. That included a trio of 3-pointers within the first few minutes after connecting on just one in the first half.
There were a myriad of undesirable stats for the Buckeyes on Friday, including free throws (13-of-27), rebounding margin (46-37), second-chance points (15-7) and points in the paint (34-22).
Despite the number of flaws in OSU’s performance, Matta said more than anything the loss was a reflection of how well the visitors played.
“I give them all the credit,” Matta said. “They outplayed us.”
Giddens was a bright spot for the Buckeyes, scoring seven points to go along with nine rebounds and six blocks — five of which came in the first half. Giddens’ six blocks were tied for the fourth-most by a freshman in OSU history.
Sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop led all OSU scorers with 16 points, while freshman guard JaQuan Lyle contributed 15.
On a team that only features one rotation player in Loving who has been on the team for more than a year, Matta said, while Friday’s loss still comes as a shock, he expected a heavy learning curve early in the season.
“I’m still kind of learning this basketball team,” Matta said. “Tonight was a great eye-opener in terms of where our toughness is mentally, physically, and we’ve got a long, long way to go.”
The Buckeyes will look to get back on track with another nonconference game at home against Louisiana Tech on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.