It wasn’t pretty in any sense of the word, but the Ohio State men’s basketball team is back at the .500 mark.
Despite a woeful shooting night, plenty of turnovers and even more fouls, the Buckeyes improved to 5-5 on the young season with a win over Northern Illinois (7-2) at the Schottenstein Center on Wednesday evening.
The Buckeyes took just a two-point lead into halftime at 33-31 and took some time to get going after the break, but they pulled away down the stretch.
Sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate proved to be the spark plug coach Thad Matta’s team needed, picking up his second double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds — 11 and seven, respectively, in the second half — while adding three steals.
“When we went in at halftime and came out, we just had that Buckeye basketball sense to us,” Tate said. “Getting on the ground for loose balls, being in the gaps. We just played harder and we got the win.”
Matta said Tate displayed great leadership during the game, something he wants to see more from the sophomore moving forward.
“I pulled him aside afterwards and just said, ‘Hey, that’s who you are. That’s who you need to be,’” Matta said. “Obviously, when you lead from the front, it can make you a better player, and I thought he was really, really good tonight.”
The Buckeyes’ most efficient scorer on the night was another sophomore forward, Keita Bates-Diop, who had 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including a trio of 3-pointers. He picked up his second career double-double, as well, by adding 10 rebounds.
Junior forward Marc Loving saw his streak of 10 or more points in each game this season come to an end, scoring only eight points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Loving’s shooting night was more indicative of his team’s offensive performance than Bates-Diop’s, as OSU shot only 39.2 percent for the game. Fortunately for OSU, the Huskies were much worse, shooting an abysmal 26.8 percent.
“At times, our shots wasn’t falling, but we just kept playing defense,” said redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “The biggest key with us is when we’re not hitting shots, we continue to play D,”
Despite the difference in field-goal percentages, Northern Illinois hung around for much of the contest. A steal by OSU freshman guard JaQuan Lyle and a three-point play from Tate broke a 44-all tie with 11:33 to go, and from that point on, the Scarlet and Gray held a 23-10 scoring advantage over the Huskies, who hit just 2-of-11 shots and turned the ball over six times down the stretch.
Matta gave all the credit for the team’s late run to defense and called it a “growing experience.”
“You shoot 39 percent and we had some point-blank shots at the rim and they didn’t go down for us, but guys ran back down, they kept defending,” he said. “That, to me, was really the difference.”
In addition to the poor shooting, both teams struggled with turnovers, combining for 27 on the night. Fouls, however, were the main reason for the sluggish, sloppy pace of the game. The teams were called for a total of 44 infractions, though OSU freshman center Daniel Giddens was the only player to foul out of the contest.
Neither team scored until the 17:43 mark of the first half when Lyle hit a floater in the paint. The slow shooting start was indicative of what was to come, as both teams shot under 40 percent for the half.
“I think we came out playing hard, but I don’t think we came out to our full potential,” Tate said. “We were kind of stuck in second gear there.”
Adding to the poor shooting performance was a plethora of fouls, with both teams reaching the double bonus — the Buckeyes doing so with 14:27 left — and shooting a combined 34 first-half free throws.
OSU was eventually able to take a 24-18 edge, its biggest lead of the first half, but couldn’t turn it into a run and pull away.
After it took the six-point advantage with 6:58 to go, the Buckeyes made only one field goal the rest of the half, taking a slim lead into the locker room.
“We’re still looking for that consistency all the way through,” Matta said. “We had a six-point lead in the first half and we had those turnovers and we weren’t able to extend it. That’s kind of been a theme with this team.”
The second half opened on a similar note to the first as the scoreboard stayed at 33-31 until Bates-Diop knocked down a corner three with 17:10 remaining.
But the Buckeyes couldn’t build on that five-point lead, as continued poor shooting and turnovers allowed the Huskies to hang around.
After Tate’s three-point play, however, OSU was able to turn on the jets and close out the Huskies to escape with a win.
OSU is scheduled to return to the court on Saturday in Brooklyn, New York, as it travels to take on No. 4 Kentucky in the Barclays Center as part of the CBS Sports Classic. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
“I just want to see growth,” Matta said of the highly anticipated matchup with the talented Wildcats. “I want to see us play better than we played last Saturday and better than we played tonight.”