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Ohio State men’s basketball looks to get back to .500 against Air Force

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OSU sophomore forward Jae'Sean Tate (1) during a game against VMI on Dec. 5 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Lexus Robinson | Lantern Photographer

OSU sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) during a game against VMI on Dec. 5 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Lexus Robinson | Lantern Photographer

It took more than two weeks, but on Saturday, the Ohio State men’s basketball team finally picked up its third win of the season by topping the Virginia Military Institute 82-69.

After the sourness of a four-game losing skid, the taste of victory was sweet for the Buckeyes, but that doesn’t mean the attitude around the Schottenstein Center is changing anytime soon.

“We haven’t deviated from one thing that we’ve been doing the last week and a half in terms of watching film, how we’re watching, how we’re practicing,” said coach Thad Matta.

The persistence by Matta and his players to keep hitting the rock, hoping it will eventually crack, seemed to work against the Keydets because many things inhibiting OSU during its losing streak went by the wayside.

For the first time all season, the Buckeyes had single-digit turnovers with just nine, and for the first time since the season-opening victory over Mount St. Mary’s, they shot more than 70 percent from the free-throw line (78.9).

Those areas have been the targets of heavy attention for Matta, especially the turnovers. To work on making smarter decisions with the basketball during the games, the coach had instituted a little disciplinary incentive during practice after the early-season struggles.

“If we turn the ball over, there’s discipline issues,” sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “It really keeps in the back of your head, like, ‘I don’t wanna turn this over or I might have to run sprints on the side.’”

The fear of additional running appeared to translate into results on the court against VMI on Saturday, and Tate said the team has no intent on returning to its old, careless ways with the ball.

As a result of the win, Tate said positive vibes have been more abundant, and players have exhibited signs that they’re “getting their confidence” back. But even so, he added that the win doesn’t satisfy them or cure any ailments.

“At the end of the day, we still have a losing record,” Tate said. “That’s still in the back of our heads. We still got a lot of work to do and everybody knows that.”

A peek at Air Force

Looking to erase the losing record that it has, OSU is set to welcome Air Force to Columbus for the first meeting on the hardwood between the teams.

The Falcons fly into Ohio’s capital city with a three-game winning streak and 6-2 record overall.

Matta said Air Force will be a good test for the Buckeyes because of the offense it runs.

The Falcons operate a variation of the Princeton offense, the coach said, which involves lots of movement and screens to try to clear space for guys to operate.

“They’ve got guys that can take it off the bounce, their post is very effective inside,” Matta said. “They can put 90 (points) on the board, as they’ve done this year.”

Leading the solid Falcon offense is sophomore guard Trevor Lyons. The 6-foot-3 left-hander attacks the rim fearlessly, while also complementing his game with a decent outside stroke. Lyons averages 15.3 points per game, while bringing in 4.4 rebounds per contest and handing out 4.1 assists.

The Virginia native, whose older brother is the fourth-leading scorer in Air Force history, doesn’t take a break on the defensive end either, as he averages 2.8 steals per game, which is in the top 20 in the country.

Lyons isn’t the only positive part of the Air Force defense, as Matta complimented the unit as a whole. The coach said the Falcons often rotate the defensive scheme that they use, going from different zone coverages to man-to-man principles.

This can cause problems for young teams like the Buckeyes, but Matta said so far this season, he’s liked what he has seen from his guys when facing similar defensive approaches, which they did on Saturday.

“I think we’ve been pretty decent with it,” he said. “We were a little bit slow reacting at the beginning, but once we got the right guys in the right spots, we had the ball moving and were getting wide-open shots.”

Grateful for Giddens

Matta mentioned the effective post player for Air Force, who happens to be senior center Zach Moer. The 6-foot-11 Texan is a solid scorer down low with a soft touch. He puts up 10.4 points per game, while also shooting an impressive 84 percent from the free-throw line.

Fortunately for OSU, it will have its best low-post defender back in the lineup to help counteract the offensive abilities of Moer. Freshman center Daniel Giddens missed the game against VMI with an illness, but Matta said he will be good to go Tuesday night.

Giddens changes nearly every shot that comes his way, as the 6-foot-10 Oak Hill Academy product is sixth in the nation with 3.33 blocks per game.

Having him down low to block shots is key to disrupting opposing offenses, Tate said.

“(Giddens) knows how to time up those blocks incredibly,” he said. “It definitely puts a little pressure on the offense, them driving in there just knowing (Giddens is there).”

Tate said it also helps wing defenders like himself to know that if an opponent is able to beat a Buckeye off the dribble, Giddens is there as a “safety net.”

Against a team such as Air Force that likes to slash to the hole and has a post player like Moer, getting Giddens back comes at the right time for OSU.

The Buckeyes and Falcons are set to tip off at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center.

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