It might have come against a Virginia Military Institute team picked to finish last in the Southern Conference in the conference’s preseason coaches poll, but the Ohio State men’s basketball team will surely take its 89-62 win on Saturday any way it can get it to snap its four-game losing streak.
“I feel like it’s definitely a sense of relief,” redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson said. “We’re a young team, but we’re still hungry, and I feel like in this game we grew a lot.”
Facing a team that contains no players taller than 6-foot-6, the Buckeyes used their height to great advantage to control the paint on both ends of the floor and open up the outside game on offense.
OSU (3-4) held a commanding 40-14 lead in points in the paint, while scoring 29 second-chance points and outrebounding the Keydets (3-4) by a margin of 48-27.
Four Buckeyes finished with double-digit points, led by 19 from sophomore guard Jae’Sean Tate and 17 from junior forward Marc Loving.
“It’s definitely a different feeling, a different atmosphere in the locker room,” Loving said about getting back on the winning side. “It feels good to get a win under our belt, but we still have a lot to work on to keep the one-game winning streak alive.”
The Buckeyes came out of the gates firing, looking to put a kibosh to their losing streak. The home team jumped out to a 19-9 lead in the first six and a half minutes of the game, and put themselves in position to run away with the game.
Some turnovers and missed looks fueled a very quick Keydet run, though, which saw them take a 23-22 lead midway through the first half. The deficit snapped OSU back to attention, as it went on a 17-3 run from that point en route to taking a 42-31 lead into the intermission.
Loving said when VMI mounted its brief comeback, the team didn’t panic or press it too much.
“I feel like we’re a very confident basketball team,” he said. “When moments happen like that, we just try to come together as much as possible, because if we don’t we will end up losing the game.”
The Buckeyes shot just 4-of-14 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half, but made up for it by shooting 12-of-20 inside of it. As a whole, OSU shot 47 percent from the field in the first half, while holding the visitors to 33 percent. Sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop led the charge in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting with two blocked shots.
OSU coach Thad Matta said he was happy with the looks that opened up on the perimeter despite the shots not always falling.
“I thought that even though we didn’t shoot that high of a percentage, I thought our execution was a little better,” he said.
The Scarlet and Gray continued the strategy of utilizing the team’s size to open up opportunities in the second half.
OSU bumped its lead up to 18 points midway through the half, with much of the attack centering around the big, physical nature of Thompson, who scored six points in the second half to finish with 13.
“He’s shown us, just in terms of his skill around the basket, I think he’s got a pretty good feel when he catches the ball, just in terms of what needs to be done, what he needs to do with it,” Matta said.
Loving also played a big role on offense in the second half, with 11 points in the final 20 minutes.
Another extended run later in the half, this one of the 11-0 variety, put the contest out of reach and put the nail in the coffin of OSU’s losing streak.
VMI junior guard QJ Peterson, who came in averaging 20.2 points per game, was the leading scorer for the Keydets with 23 points, but was only able to shoot at a 6-of-16 clip as he was guarded tightly throughout by Bates-Diop.
Two areas of major concern throughout the season for OSU saw improvements for Matta’s squad on Saturday: free-throw shooting and turnovers.
The Buckeyes came into the game with the 11th worst free-throw percentage at 59.4 percent and averaging 15.7 turnovers per game, the 32nd worst mark in the nation.
On Saturday, however, OSU shot an efficient 15-of-19 at the line (78.9 percent) and only coughed the ball up a season-low nine times.
“We cut our turnovers down. We had single-digit turnovers for the whole game,” Loving said. “I feel like we have to carry that out throughout the rest of the season.”
Freshman center Daniel Giddens, who leads the Big Ten with 3.3 blocks per game, was unable to play on Saturday as he dealt with an illness, but that didn’t stop OSU from altering five shots. Matta said after the game that he expects Giddens to return on Tuesday.
That game on Tuesday is set to come against Air Force. Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.