After a dismal performance against %%MATCH_6%% to close the regular season, the Buckeyes responded with a win in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament, a 79-73 triumph over %%MATCH_5%%.
There was a lot to take away from the victory (and there will be plenty more coming tomorrow) but here are some major points I left the United Center with.
- Lots More Loving: Welcome back %%MATCH_3%%. The sophomore snapped out of the funk that has plagued him in the six games since he has been back from suspension. Against Minnesota he 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting with 5 rebounds. Thad Matta also praised the forward’s defensive effort on the night. All and all it seemed like a different player.
- Bench Points: Loving was a big reason why the Buckeyes got 20 points off the bench one game after getting just two. Kam Williams and %%MATCH_0%% each had four points and played solid minutes for the Buckeyes. That type of performance from the reserves will be more and more important as the Buckeyes try to continue in the one-and-done, back-to-back game format of the Big Ten Tournament.
- All About Balance: %%MATCH_4%% was as balanced as it has been in a long time. With 23 from D’Angelo Russell, 21 from %%MATCH_1%%, 12 from Loving and another nine from %%MATCH_2%%, the Buckeyes finally got more than two guys going. They nearly had four in double figures, something they haven’t accomplished since a Jan. 25 game against %%MATCH_7%%.
- Free Throw Success: Speaking of that game against the Hoosiers, that was also the last time %%MATCH_8%% State shot better than 75 percent form the free throw line before the game with the Gophers. Ohio State hit 22 of 28 free throws to secure a win on a night that they struggled form three.
- Clean Slate, Not Face: While the Buckeyes have talked about the postseason starting a clean slate for the team, it comes with an unkempt face. Matta did not shave following the Wisconsin loss, telling his team that he wanted them to think of that game when they looked at his face. After the win over Minnesota, the beard isn’t going away just yet.
“It’s a new season, getting a feel for postseason play,” Loving said. “Just getting a new opportunity, it’s a clean slate, all teams are 0-0 and I’m just happy we got the victory.”
“It was a learning lesson, but I’m happy to be back with my teammates. Just happy to be able to contribute and move forward. I’m happy that today that we are able move on in the Big Ten Tournament.”
In six games before the Big Ten Tournament Loving was 4 of 21 from the field, 2 of 14 from three with 19 total points. He nearly matched that total against the Gophers.