ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The 13th installment of Ohio State men’s basketball under coach Thad Matta began on the road for the first time in Matta’s tenure on Friday night. For much of the game, the Navy Midshipmen proved to be the test that junior forward Jae’Sean Tate foretold. However, after taking a five-point lead into the half, the Buckeyes rallied behind the play of redshirt junior guard Kam Williams and redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson in the second half.
Williams torched the Midshipmen zone defense in the second half with 16 points, going 4-for-4 from 3-point territory. Thompson had three three-point play opportunities, converting on two of them in OSU’s 78-68 victory.
“When you’re playing a team like Navy they got a lot of players that can shoot the ball and you got a lot of guys that shoot threes. I think we did a pretty decent job,” Matta said. “The biggest thing at halftime was to quit fouling as much and finishing the plays out … I was very pleased with how we finished the game out.”
Around the 14-minute mark of the second half, OSU found a spark on offense with the substitutions of sophomore point guard C.J. Jackson and Williams. Jackson found junior forward Keita Bates-Diop on back-to-back possessions, then went to Williams. The guard from nearby Baltimore knocked home three straight shots for seven quick points and even contributed a steal on the defensive end.
At the half OSU led by just five points, due in large part to Bates-Diop’s 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and four rebounds. But the second half was all Williams.
After Navy opened the second half on a 7-2 run, Williams entered the game off the bench and immediately sunk a three to put the Buckeyes up eight. Just two possessions later, Williams again hit a three, giving OSU a double-digit lead. He finished with 23 points, shooting 7-for-9 from the floor and 5-for-6 from beyond the arc.
Navy coach Ed DeChellis said that the game plan was to make OSU beat them from the outside. The Midshipmen proved to be no match for Williams’ shooting, despite forcing the Buckeyes into 17 turnovers.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” Williams said. “I’ve been putting the work in all summer. They were just pressing and playing off so I just let it fly.”
After success in the first half shooting the ball, Bates-Diop found other ways to help the team. The forward from Normal, Illinois, shot 0-for-5 in the second half, but grabbed 10 rebounds to add to his four from the second half.
OSU’s big men — Thompson, freshman Micah Potter and redshirt sophomore David Bell — were in foul trouble for most of the game, which made Bates-Diop’s contributions even more vital. He said after the game that with his wingspan and height, he’s able to get his hands on loose balls. But even to that point, his aggressiveness seemed to be the real factor for OSU’s offensive success in the second half.
“That is one of the battle cries for Keita, playing with that element of toughness,” Matta said. “I tell him all the time to not be afraid to clench your teeth because good things happen when you’re playing that way.”
In OSU’s preseason game against Walsh, the Buckeyes’ offense didn’t pick up until Jackson came into the game and dished six assists with no turnovers. On Friday against Navy, Jackson again helped the offense, which was more efficient in the second half.
Jackson played 27 minutes compared to sophomore starting point guard JaQuan Lyle’s 13 minutes. Matta said that Lyle simply didn’t play like himself on both sides of the ball. Jackson came in and provided consistency on offense and locked down Navy’s top scorer Shawn Anderson at times. Moving forward, Matta said that he has the utmost confidence in Lyle to bounce back from Friday.
Jackson and Lyle are the team’s primary ball handlers, but nine different players contributed to the team’s 17 turnovers. The Buckeyes did register 20 assists on 27 field goals, but Bates-Diop said that the team needs to limit the turnovers and continue to share the basketball before Monday’s home opener against North Carolina Central.
“I think the energy we brought, especially in the second half is something we need to keep doing,” he said. “We played forced, obviously, the turnovers and kind of sucky play at times, we gotta cut down on that. But I think taking away, obviously, we got to keep the energy.”