After a four-game losing streak dropped the inexperienced Ohio State men’s basketball team to 2-4, it is beginning to recover, as the Buckeyes got back to .500 on Tuesday night after dispatching Air Force 74-50 at the Schottenstein Center.
It might not have been a flawless performance or come against the nation’s top team, but OSU coach Thad Matta will take whatever his team can get.
“Any win is a good win,” he said. “We played tonight like we practiced, and we haven’t always done that.”
Leading the way for OSU was junior forward Marc Loving with game highs for both points and rebounds, having 18 and 10, respectively, for his second straight double-double.
In all eight games so far in 2015, Loving has scored in the double-digits.
“My teammates are finding me in pretty good positions,” Loving said, “and I am just able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Matta had high praise for the way Loving was able to move past a rough jump-shooting night to still find ways to score.
“I thought he did a great job playing inside and out,” the coach said. “He can really shoot the ball but he did a great job of playing inside and out tonight.”
Complementing Loving for OSU was freshman guard JaQuan Lyle with 12 points and sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate with 11 points. Lyle tacked on five rebounds, while Tate added four.
Turnovers have haunted Lyle throughout the year, but the freshman played well Tuesday, coughing it up just three times, while returning to a double-digit point total after two games under 10.
Lyle said for him, the biggest thing he is trying to improve upon is not always trying to make the “home run play.”
“(The coaches) try and get me to make what they call ‘singles,’” Lyle said. “I think tonight, all three turnovers were just silly mistakes. Just making the simple play, that’s what I need to do.”
For Air Force (6-3), the night was a turbulent one, to say the least. The Falcons struggled mightily on offense, shooting just 33 percent and turning the ball over 18 times.
The Falcons were led by sophomore guard Trevor Lyons, who put up 13 points while also hauling in six rebounds.
Arguably one of the few positives for the visitors was that freshman Danny Hummer, an Upper Arlington native, checked in during the second half when the game was out of reach. The 6-foot guard connected on a pair of free throws for his first career points.
The Buckeyes jumped out of the gates focused early on, connecting on their first four field goals, fueled by efficient ball movement, to go up 9-2.
Powered by seven points from Lyons, the Falcons climbed back into it over the next four minutes to trim the deficit to just 13-11.
The Buckeyes hit a minor rough patch offensively, due in part to odd shot selection, including a midrange jumper redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson, but it proved inconsequential.
OSU slowly found itselves pulling away from the Falcons after the visitors roped together a 7:57 stretch without connecting on a field goal. Instead of making shots, Air Force turned the ball over five times to find itself trailing 22-12.
A jump shot from junior forward Hayden Graham put an end to the shooting slump — but only for a moment.
Lyle hit a 3-pointer to make it 25-14 but the Falcons quickly reverted right back to the horrific shooting and poor ball security, missing eight consecutive field goals and turning the rock over thrice.
OSU took advantage of the putrid performance by Air Force, connecting on five of its next eight shots from the field to finish the half on a 15-2 run, capped off by a running 3-pointer from Loving as the halftime buzzer sounded.
The Buckeyes trotted into the locker room for halftime leading 37-16, but even so, it wasn’t the flawless effort the score might have indicated.
OSU didn’t play all that well, it was just that Air Force was worse. The Scarlet and Gray shot just 47 percent, going 16-of-34 from the field, but the Falcons countered that with a measly 22 percent on 5-of-23 shooting, while also turning it over 11 times.
“We had some opportunities to convert and we didn’t convert in transition,” Matta said of the offense not shooting very well. “The looks we got, I thought, were pretty decent shots. We had a couple ill-advised, but we finally found our rhythm a little bit there after the first timeout in the second half.”
As Matta noted, the Buckeyes played a much more efficient second half, spreading the ball around nicely, which helped the home team maintain control throughout the final 20 minutes despite a better showing from the Falcons.
Air Force more than doubled its offensive output from the first half, scoring 34 points on 12-of-28 shooting. Unfortunately for the upset-seeking Falcons, the hole they dug in the first half was too deep to dig out of.
“I think we’ve gotten better each and every game this year,” Lyle said. “And after each game, we’ll build off that. I think we’re a better basketball team.”
Ten different Buckeyes saw the floor on Tuesday, including walk-on guard Joey Lane, and each of them scored.
One player who did not see action for OSU was center Daniel Giddens. After missing Saturday’s game against Virginia Military Institute with illness, the freshman was expected back in the lineup. However, a hamstring injury kept him out of the lineup mainly for precautionary reasons, Matta said.
The Buckeyes will look to improve to a winning record for the first time since they were 2-1 when they square off against Connecticut on Saturday for their first true road game. Tip-off is set for noon in Storrs, Connecticut.
“That’s going to be a big test,” Lyle said. “And hopefully we’ll be ready.”