That Loving Feeling

Marc Loving had been back in the Buckeye rotation for six games prior to last night's win over Minnesota, but the 79-73 victory marked his real return.

“About time, bro.”

D’Angelo Russell echoed the sentiment of Buckeye basketball fans everywhere with that comment to Marc Loving after the sophomore nailed a three in the first half of Ohio State’s 79-73 win over Minnesota in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.

That was the sign of things to come from Loving as the sophomore finished with 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting. It was the first real signs of life from the forward who had been the Buckeyes second-leading scorer before a three-game suspension in mid-February.

The Buckeyes were rolling before he was forced to sit, having topped Indiana and Maryland by 12 and 24 points, respectively. In the win over the Terrapins Loving was 5 for 5 from three with 19 points.

In six regular season games after suspension, Loving was a nonfactor. He scored a total of 19 points in those games while shooting 19 percent from the field (4 of 21) and 14.3 percent from three (2 of 14).

“I don’t know exactly what was different. I just had a lot of energy tonight and we were able as a team to pull out a close game against Minnesota. It was a close victory, nothing that one guy was able to do.”

The reason for the suspension is still unknown and Loving declined to comment on the reason he was held out or whether he felt the punishment was just in the postgame locker room.

While the reason for his absence remains a mystery, his teammates are just happy to have Loving – this version of Loving – back contributing on the court.

“Ever since his return we’ve been waiting for him to come back,” Russell said. “He’s been playing great in practices, it’s just his confidence when it came game time.

“I just kept trying to boost his confidence. He’s been on my team the last few days of practice and I was just trying to get him involved as much as I could. He was making shots and now he is hesitating on his shots and I’m like, ‘Yo, shoot it. You make those every day in practice.’ And today he was passing them up to create for someone else and I was just like, ‘Bro, be aggressive, we need you to.’ So just keep preaching that to him.”

While Loving’s point total was the most he has scored in over a month and nearly two thirds of his total in the previous six games combined, he contributed in other ways. The Toledo native hauled in five rebounds and was more engaged and active defensively than he has been recently.

It was that effort as much as the scoring that had been absent in Loving’s game since returning, and that’s what head coach Thad Matta was happiest to see.

“I know he was a double-digit scorer, but his defense tonight – he had some rotations that were incredible. With that said, I was happy to see him. Jae’Sean (Tate) got in foul trouble early and Marc came in and not only held court, but gave us a heck of a boost.”

While the defense and the rebounding were welcome, Ohio State will need Loving to score. The Buckeyes are 13-4 when Loving is in double figures and when he is playing well Loving is one of the few players on the roster that demands attention outside the three-point line, helping to properly space the floor around Russell.

“Marc played a great game for us,” Shannon Scott said. “Shot the ball well, got to the basket and rebounded the ball well for us. He's playing his best basketball right now and that's what we need him to do.

“It just keeps the defense honest. They can't really single (Russell) out and just focus on him the whole game. That's how he gets great shots with the clock going down — with the way everybody else is playing.”

The Buckeyes hope to get more of that type of play from Loving tonight against Michigan State. The last time the two teams played Loving was in his first game back from suspension and the sophomore had zero points with no rebounds or assists in just five minutes as Ohio State fell by three.

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