Coach Thad Matta said that he is considering shaking up the starting unit, a group of five players that has started every game together when healthy this year. He was still unsure if the change would come against the Wildcats when speaking to the media yesterday, but if he does switch things up it will be to insert freshman Jae’Sean Tate into the starting lineup.
If Tate starts, the energy that the freshman has been able to bring off the bench may help correct the sluggish play the Buckeyes have started games with this season.
“If you make any changes obviously there is going to be risk-reward, different things coming into the basketball game,” Matta said. “The biggest thing we are talking about is attempting to get off to a decent start. Not even saying that we’re scoring, but maybe get a few shot attempts at the basket the first few possessions.”
So far this season, seniors Amir Williams, Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott have started every game alongside sophomore Marc Loving and freshman D’Angelo Russell. If Tate were to start, it would likely be for Loving, the team’s second-leading scorer, though Matta avoided specifics.
Regardless of who starts tonight in Evanston, Ill., the Buckeyes badly need a win. Ohio State (14-5, 3-3) is sitting at .500 in Big Ten play. While their three losses have come to teams that are now ranked in No. 23 Indiana and No. 25 Iowa (twice), the team can’t afford to lose to a conference cellar-dweller like Northwestern (10-8, 1-4).
“This is a much-needed win for us and for them as well,” Scott said. “We know that both teams are going to come out ready to play. It’s a big game for us, we came off a really bad game against Iowa so we know we’ve got to get our groove.
“We always struggle with them at their place, along with every team there. It will be a tough game for us, but we have a good plan where we can beat them.” As the point guard said, the Buckeyes have struggled against Northwestern on the road recently. The Buckeyes did not play in Evanston last season, but in their three most recent trips to Welsh-Ryan Arena Ohio State has left with three wins by 10, two and one point.
The Wildcats have struggled in the conference so far this season, but like their home games against the Buckeyes in recent years, they’ve has been in nearly every game they’ve lost. Northwestern won its first conference game, a 51-47 win over Rutgers, before dropping four straight. Three of those losses have come by single digits with Michigan State needing overtime to earn a seven-point win.
The lone double-digit league loss Northwestern has suffered came by 13 to a healthy Wisconsin team.
“You look at the loses they’ve had and everyone has been, with maybe one exception, to a really good team,” Matta said. “They’re right there. They run great offense and they are going to exploit the things that you don’t do well defensively. They are looking to push the ball if you don’t get back in transition, they’ll score a layup or shoot a three on you in a heartbeat. They are very, very solid in everything they do.”
Coming off a disappointing nine-point loss to Iowa, Ohio State will look to get back in the win column against Northwestern tonight, their fourth road contest in their last five games. Matta said he doesn’t dwell on previous games and hopes his team isn’t either.
“Tomorrow night is like a fresh, new beginning for me and hopefully it is for these guys,” he said
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