The Ohio State men’s basketball team opened up its 2016-17 home schedule on Monday night against the North Carolina Central Eagles out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. In front of a crowd that seemed to be less than the 9,787 reported people in attendance, the Buckeyes underwhelmed in what many thought would be an easy blowout victory.
OSU won Monday night’s affair versus the Eagles 69-63 in what was a flashback to the 2015-16 team that strung together several games of uninspired play. OSU was still able to come away with a victory in a game that looked similar to last season’s early losses to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. However, there were hardly any positives other than it was a win. The performance was so discouraging that junior forward Jae’Sean Tate offered an apology to the Buckeye faithful after the game.
“We didn’t come ready to play today,” Tate said. “This one is on us, as the players. We didn’t come out like we had practiced. I apologize to Buckeye Nation and we’re going to try our best to go out there on Thursday and play as hard as we can.”
After Friday’s season-opening victory in Annapolis, Maryland, against Navy, OSU coach Thad Matta said that there were times in which he could tell his players weren’t “thinking the game.” Monday at the Schottenstein Center was a bit more concerning to Matta, who said he couldn’t pinpoint the reason behind the absence of a competitive mindset.
“We, for whatever reason, we weren’t thinking. Some things happened that I’ve never seen happen before in terms of 38 practices,” he said. “We weren’t mentally and physically very tough. We obviously got to get that corrected.”
In the Navy game, the Buckeyes struggled at times to figure out the Midshipmen’s zone defense. Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams, sophomore point guard C.J. Jackson and redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson all came off the bench and provided a spark that ignited a sluggish offense.
On Monday against NC Central, the difficulties against a zone were still present, but the bench was not there to boost the OSU attack. Williams scored 23 points in the first game of the season, including 5-for-6 from 3-point land. It took him until 6:24 remaining in the second half for him to cash in his first 3-point bucket of the game. He scored just nine points in 31 minutes.
Thompson grabbed seven rebounds and scored six points in 17 minutes and was a factor in the second half. However, the amount of dispassionate play on defense left much to be desired after 40 minutes.
Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop followed up his 14-point, 14-rebound game against Navy with just nine points and two rebounds on Monday night. After the game, Matta said that Bates-Diop had been out of practice for the past two days with an illness, which contributed to his lack of production.
Without Bates-Diop and senior forward Marc Loving, who sat with foul trouble for much of the game, OSU couldn’t produce a lot of offense against several zone and man-to-man looks NC Central threw at the Buckeyes.
“We did some things that were so uncharacteristic … we never had that flow,” Matta said. “We got work to do.”
With OSU up 12, Jackson made a steal off of an inbounds pass and patiently waited for Williams to dart down the lane. Williams bobbled the pass and his shot was blocked, which turned into a transition three on the other end. NC Central guard Patrick Cole then hit another three on the next possession, trimming the lead to six for OSU. Cole torched the Scarlet and Gray with 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting.
Another major factor was free-throw shooting. OSU shot just 11-for-23 from the line, including 1-for-4 down the stretch.
Jackson played more minutes than sophomore starting point guard JaQuan Lyle for a second straight game. Lyle had a minus-six plus-minus rating while Jackson had a plus-three. Jackson had eight assists compared to just two from Lyle.
Matta said that before Thursday’s game against Providence, there could be a few changes in the lineup. For Tate, he knows that OSU can’t win many games based on its play on Monday.
“We just got to make sure it’s not a repeat of last year. We can’t be lackadaisical. We got to be the first team to punch the other in the mouth.”