Loving Set For Center Stage

With Deshaun Thomas no longer on the team, Ohio State is looking to replace its leading scorer and rebounder from a season ago. An X-factor in that search could be freshman Marc Loving, who looked comfortable in his unofficial debut on Sunday.

Marc Loving admitted that he experienced some nerves in the moments leading up to his unofficial college debut on Sunday. After all, the Schottenstein Center isn't exactly the same size as the gyms in Northwest Ohio that he dominated for the better part of his storied high school career at Toledo St. John's Jesuit.

Twice named Ohio's Division-I Player of the Year, Loving came to Ohio State carrying lofty expectations and a four-star rating. But as the 6-7, 215-pound freshman took the court for the Buckeyes' matchup against Walsh University, he found himself almost overwhelmed by the atmosphere, despite the fact that it was merely a preseason exhibition that he was getting ready to play in.

"Going into the game, (I had) a little bit of butterflies," Loving admitted. "It's a pretty big stage coming from Toledo high school basketball."

Loving swore that his nervousness wore off by the end of pregame warmups, but his stat line suggested otherwise. The reigning Ohio Mr. Basketball connected on just one of his six field goal attempts against the Cavaliers and went 3-of-7 from the free throw line, numbers that OSU head coach Thad Matta claimed weren't representative of the impressive preseason that the freshman forward has put together.

"He didn't shoot from the field or the free throw line particularly well, but we've seen him make shots at a great percentage leading into this game. I think that'll come," Matta said. "Maybe just some freshman jitters or whatever."

That's not to say that there weren't any positives to take away from Loving's outing against Walsh. On a team looking to replace its leading rebounder from a season ago in Deshaun Thomas, Loving was active on the boards on both ends of the floor, as evidenced by his nine rebounds (six defensive, three offensive) against the Cavaliers.

Despite his status as a freshman, Loving already appears to have bought into the ‘Matta way,' which places a premium on defense and rebounding.

"I just wanted to contribute any way I could. Today it was rebounding and playing defense," Loving said. "I felt like there were a lot of opportunities for defensive and offensive rebounds and we really have to focus on that all season to be dominant."

And while he struggled on offense, Loving has already proven to his teammates that he's every bit the sharpshooter that he was advertised to be during his days with the Titans. The Buckeyes possessed plenty of depth before Loving ever stepped on campus this summer, but a tall shooter with a smooth stroke will always have a place in the OSU rotation.

"I think he's going to provide some pretty solid minutes and some points for us," senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said of Loving. "He's one of the top notch shot-makers on our team for us at this moment."

With 22 minutes of action in the Buckeyes' exhibition, Loving appears firmly in the fold when it comes to playing time in his freshman season. He'll have to connect on more than just 16 percent of his shot attempts to remain there, but the Glass City native is confident that he'll be able to just that -- and then some -- this season.

"I see there's a window of opportunity," Loving said. "Whatever I can scrape up and get any kind of minutes just putting energy out there on the floor, production and rebounding or playing defense or whatever it is, I'm pretty comfortable."

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