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Ohio State men’s basketball performs down the stretch to top Northwestern 71-63

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OSU freshman guard JaQuan Lyle (13) during a game against Northwestern on Feb. 9 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Mariesha Gibson | Lantern Photographer

OSU freshman guard JaQuan Lyle (13) during a game against Northwestern on Feb. 9 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Mariesha Gibson | Lantern Photographer

A frustrating first half for the Ohio State men’s basketball team appeared to be a telltale sign of the start of another disappointing home loss. But thanks to the leadership of junior forward Marc Loving and tenacious play from freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle, OSU was able to pick up win No. 13 on the season, as it overpowered the Northwestern Wildcats 71-63.

Lyle scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the second half to pair with Loving’s 15 points and five assists. OSU coach Thad Matta said he had hoped the team would avoid another slow start, but he was proud of how his team fought back.

“We found a way to win the basketball game,” Matta said. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but we are trying to find some constants with this team, and hopefully we can find that channel and stop channel surfing on a nightly basis.”

The first half could be described in one word — ugly — with Loving being the lone bright spot. He scored 10 of OSU’s 26 points as the Buckeyes shot a lackluster 35.7 percent (10-of-28) from the floor. For most of the opening 20 minutes, the home team looked puzzled on how to attack Northwestern’s (16-9, 4-8) zone defense.

With Matta working like a mad scientist to find the right combination of players, OSU’s players appeared to start to get frustrated with the outcome as they headed to the locker room trailing 33-26.

Lyle, who has played inconsistently for the Buckeyes (15-10, 7-5) for much of the season, showed his frustration on the court by yelling at redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson after he dropped a razor-sharp pass from Lyle, which subsequently lead to a turnover and ensuing foul on Lyle.

Matta, noticing the frustration on Lyle’s shoulders, pulled his point guard aside the break and gave him an earful.

“JaQuan and I had a one-sided conversion at halftime, and I was leading the charge about that,” Matta said. “I give him credit, I think he responded and did a nice job. He had a very good control of what he was doing, and he was giving off positive energy, which was a good thing for us.”

Rejuvenated, Lyle and the Buckeyes found their offense, going on an 8-0 run midway through the second half to trim the Wildcat lead to 48-47. The newfound momentum continued to push OSU forward, as Loving hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 50. OSU then took the lead on a jumper by sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop with 5:58 left in the game — a lead which it would not relinquish.

“We just needed to find some type of spark,” Loving said. “We were able to get the tempo going and then (forced) some key turnovers.”

Thompson, who poured in 12 points and nine rebounds, said the team never thought about giving up and remembered the message Matta delivered to his players to “lose yourself playing for Ohio State basketball.”

Matt’s unselfish motto, which he said he has been preaching for the last 12 seasons, resonates as the reason OSU has been having a tough time during this up-and-down season.

“I think sometimes we get where our thought process is strictly on ourselves,” the coach said. “And we’ve proven that when we’re thinking not big picture, we’re not thinking about the other guys, we’re not a very good basketball team. When you lose yourself just playing the game of basketball, and whatever happens, happens, we’re a better basketball team.”

OSU sealed the game late, hitting a dozen free throws over the final 2:40 of the game. The foul line played a big role in the Buckeyes pulling off the victory, as they shot 94 percent from the charity stripe in the second half (16-of-17).

Loving said he and his teammates knew they had been working too hard in their preparation to lose on Tuesday.

“We just kept telling one another that the shots were going to fall,” Loving said. “We had faith in one another. We were never going to quit.”

The Buckeyes are set to get back in action on Saturday against Rutgers on the road. OSU took care of the Scarlet Knights earlier in the season, winning 94-68 on Jan. 13. Tipoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Side notes

  • OSU had all five starters score in double figures.
  • OSU committed a season-low five turnovers in the win.
  • The Buckeyes’ 82.6 free-throw percentage was their second-best performance of the season.
  • Matta is now 19-1 in his career versus Northwestern  

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