After they dispatched No. 23 Indiana 82-70 Sunday, the Buckeyes first win over a ranked opponent on the season, Matta liked what he saw, but still wasn’t prepared to say with confidence that Ohio State was hitting its stride.
It’s likely the coach will never be satisfied, never feel like he’s seen enough, but the Buckeyes (16-5, 5-3) have another opportunity to provide some evidence at 7 p.m. against No. 16 Maryland.
“Right now we’re a good team, but we still have a lot to learn,” senior Shannon Scott said. “I feel like when we get to our peak we’re going to be a great team, but there are still a lot of little things that we need to take care of in order to be a great team.
“It’s a real big thing for us. We’re not going to just lie and say we don’t want to be a ranked team. We know we’re not ranked right now, we want to get to that position. We know that we have to beat the best in order to become the best.”
Maryland (18-3, 6-2) has certainly been one of the best teams in the Big Ten this season. In their first year in the conference, the Terrapins enter their game with the Buckeyes in second place in the league.
Like the Buckeyes, Maryland is led by a star freshman. Point guard Melo Trimble has been one of the best first-year players in the country, averaging 16.3 points, 2.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds this season.
“He makes great decisions,” Matta said of Trimble. “He can score a lot of different ways. He gets to the foul line a lot. He seems to have a great command of his team in getting guys where they need to be. He makes great reads in transition and he’s definitely a handful because of his quickness and his ability to shoot the ball.”
Scott, who will be the Buckeye tasked with slowing down the Terrapins leading scorer, agreed.
“He’s a very poised player,” the senior said. “He doesn’t get sped up. He makes the right decision a lot of times, he takes big shots and makes big shots. He’s not one of those guys that just tries to fit in, he wants to be the big man on campus and he is doing a great job of that at Maryland.”
While Trimble has been Maryland’s best player, he is far from a one-man show. Swing man Dez Wells is averaging 13.6 points, 3.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game, and at 6-5 has a knack for posting up smaller players. Forward Jake Layman also averages double digits, checking in at 14.3 points per game to go along with 6.9 rebounds.
For all three players, a lot of points have come at the free throw line. Maryland has attempted 522 free throws this season, the ninth-most of any team in the country, and have connected on 74.7 percent of them (17th nationally). Trimble has scored over six points a game at the line, making 131 of 149 free throws this season (87.9 percent), the third-most makes in the country.
In all, over a quarter of the Terrapins points this season have come from the free throw line.
“I’ve always said that the majority of fouls are out of laziness and not being ready to play,” Matta said. “They’ve done it to some really, really good teams. We’re going to have to be as sound as we possibly can defensively. Knowing that we are going to foul, but limiting those I think will be a big key for us.”
If the Buckeyes can limit the Terrapins trips to the line, it will go a long way to securing their second victory this season over a ranked opponent. Maybe that will be enough for Matta to concede the team has turned the corner.