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JaQuan Lyle struggling to become go-to playmaker for Ohio State men’s basketball

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OSU freshman guard JaQuan Lyle (13) puts up a shot against Virginia’s Darius Thompson on Dec. 1 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost 58-64. Credit: Bree William | Lantern Photographer

OSU freshman guard JaQuan Lyle (13) puts up a shot against Virginia’s Darius Thompson on Dec. 1 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost 58-64. Credit: Bree Williams | Lantern Photographer

The Ohio State men’s basketball team’s fourth straight loss Tuesday night against 10th-ranked Virginia marked the longest skid for coach Thad Matta before January in the 12 seasons he’s been in Columbus.

The losses are slightly encouraging because of how close they have been, as no loss has been by more than eight points thus far, but the Buckeyes have been unable to get over the hump.

“It just seems like all of our games come down to the wire,” sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate said after the 64-58 loss. “We just have to figure out a way to bring it home.”

In its quest to finally bring one home, the team is relying heavily on the leadership from junior forward Marc Loving and sophomore guard Keita Bates-Diop, but it needs more.

Enter freshman guard JaQuan Lyle, who could very well be that boost.

Lyle, a 6-foot-5 combo guard from Evansville, Indiana, who was a late addition to this season’s recruiting class after former guard D’Angelo Russell left for the NBA draft, is a player who could potentially be the catalyst for the team if he can get going.

“We just have to continue to get (Lyle) thinking and understanding what needs to be done because he has the capabilities of making an impact,” Matta said on Monday.

Lyle has shown some flashes of the player Matta hopes his young guard will eventually become, but it has been marred by inconsistency and weaknesses in certain areas.

In OSU’s lone exhibition contest against Walsh, he flirted with a triple-double, finishing the game with 19 points, seven assists and nine rebounds.

Other times it’s very obvious he has corners that need to be polished.

“I think what JaQuan’s got to learn is to take over a game. But he’s got to do it within what we’re trying to do,” Matta said.

Though he’s averaging 10 points per game, he’s struggled scoring in the moments when it’s most needed.

In the narrow loss to Louisiana Tech, he managed just four points in 31 minutes. Then against Memphis, which was the team’s third loss in the four-game losing skid, Lyle tallied 18 points, a solid total. However, just five of those came in the second half when the Buckeyes were entrenched in a neck-and-neck battle.

Tuesday night’s ACC/Big Ten challenge against Virginia was no different, as he went 1-of-7 from the field with one foul. His lone basket was a 3-pointer at the nine-minute mark in the second half.

The season is still young and there’s always hope a team can turn the corner, but it’s going to get more challenging as Big Ten play looms.

“(Improving) just comes with being tougher and taking care of the ball,” Tate said.

Other than experience — or lack thereof — free throws and turnovers are what have plagued this team so far this season.

If Lyle is to be the primary ball handler, cutting down on turnovers will be key for the Buckeyes’ success, as they will then have more opportunities to get shots up.

In total, the Scarlet and Gray have 94 turnovers, 20 of which were committed by Lyle — the most of anyone on the team. He’s had success in the assist department, as he leads the team with 5.8 per contest. It’s just that sometimes the freshman tries to force a pass that isn’t there, leading to turnovers.

“Sometimes it’s just as simple as, ‘Throw the ball over there,’ and that’s the best play that can be made,” Matta said.

When it comes down to free throws, any coach around the country wants them to be knocked down. It’s what oftentimes separates good teams from the bad.

As of right now, based off the team’s current average of 58 percent, it would fall under the category of a bad team. Lyle’s woes from the charity stripe are contributing to that, as he’s converting on a measly 56 percent of his attempts.

“We have to understand the small things are making a huge difference for us,” Matta said in reference to the turnovers and free-throw struggles.

Though the Buckeyes took a loss Tuesday night, it was arguably the best performance they’ve put forth thus far this season. Perhaps most importantly, it also diminished much of the ambiguity surrounding their ceiling.

“There are a few certainties,” Matta said. “And hopefully we find those certainties sooner than later because that’s where you can start building to get better.”

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